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Community solar developers ready to launch

OE Solar founder and CEO Adam Harper works on a rooftop solar system being installed on a government building in Albuquerque. (Courtesy of OE Solar)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque-based OE Solar built New Mexico’s only existing community solar project to date at Picuris Pueblo north of Santa Fe.

The 1 megawatt array, which came online in 2018, now provides solar-generated electricity to about 600 homes in the Pensaco Valley. The pueblo financed the $2.2 million project with assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy, and about $500,000 in front-end funding from OE Solar to get development going while the tribal government sought commercial loans, said OE founder and CEO Adam Harper.

Adam Harper

Picuris Pueblo owns the solar array, which is connected to Taos-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s grid. As a sovereign nation, the pueblo could build and operate the project independently of current state law that prohibits community solar development in non-tribal areas around the state.

But if enabling legislation is passed in this year’s legislative session, developers like OE solar are ready to build a lot more community solar installations across New Mexico.

“There’s significant pent-up demand here for community solar, and we’re passionate about seeing new legislation passed to open the local market for it,” Harper said. “… All these people who live Downtown or in apartment complexes and lower income housing around Albuquerque don’t have direct access now to the benefits of solar. But I believe we’d see substantial growth in demand in these communities if the Community Solar Act is approved.”

A new study released in January by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that, if allowed to move forward, community solar development could have a statewide cumulative economic impact of anywhere from $155 million over three years to more than $517 million over a five-year period, depending on the size of installations. At the upper end, solar projects could generate nearly 4,000 jobs and generate more than $2.9 million in annual tax revenue for the state, according to the BBER study, which was financed by the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a trade group representing member companies in 17 states.

OE Solar founder and CEO Adam Harper in front of the companys headquarters in Downtown Albuquerque.

Senate Bill 84, which would permit community solar for the first time in New Mexico, would set an annual 100 MW cap on total project development across the state for the first three years to fully gauge the benefits before expanding the market. But if the cap is raised, Harper said BBER’s estimates are likely conservative.

Indeed, out-of-state companies are ready to move aggressively in a newly-opened New Mexico market.

Colorado-based Pivot Energy, a community solar developer that currently operates in 14 states, is awaiting enabling legislation to launch local operations, said Jon Sullivan, vice president of project development.

“We want to make a play here,” Sullivan told the Journal. “We see real opportunities in New Mexico. If all goes well, we’ll open a satellite office with boots on the ground.”

The company would rapidly staff-up with local employees, Sullivan said.

“We always hire locally,” he said. “We’d need a lot of New Mexicans for construction and for all the trades, from general contractors to surveyors, environmental consultants, technicians and sales people. New Mexicans are the ones who have the local knowledge that we need.”