New Mexico’s community solar program attracted hundreds of bids from local and out-of-state companies, but some firms say bidding irregularities may have stacked the process against them.
Under the request for proposals, or RFP, that program manager InClime Inc. released in November, companies seeking to win approval for proposed community solar projects were evaluated using a point system that awarded scores on different development categories connected to each bid.
That included things like experience in developing and managing community solar projects, proposed project site viability for grid interconnection and benefits to local communities — with extra points available for serving marginalized or disadvantaged groups.
Some evaluation categories called for a sliding scale of points, rather than a simple all-or-nothing approach to either allot or withhold points based on whether a bidder’s proposal meets or doesn’t meet expectations.
That allowed companies to beef up their bids by proposing additional efforts in some categories — such as community outreach and workforce training programs — to win at least some, if not all, of the points available on the sliding scale.
InClime privately revealed individual RFP scores to each bidder on May 1 using the sliding-scale system. But soon after, some companies complained that that system conflicts with program rules approved last year by the state Public Regulation Commission.
After reviewing those complaints, InClime — in consultation with PRC staff — decided to eliminate the scaling process in those categories where it conflicted with the established rules, said PRC Director of Policy Administration Arthur O’Donnell.
“In some categories, the rules said points ‘shall be’ awarded instead of ‘up to’ a certain number of points can be awarded,” O’Donnell said. “So InClime decided to change it to live by the rules. … We worked closely with InClime to work through those issues to make sure the system was as fair as possible while accurately reflecting the rules.”
The change, however, affected about a dozen bids, lowering scores for some while increasing them for others.
One Energy Renewable, for example — a Seattle-based company pursuing community solar development in various states — says its points dropped significantly between the original scoring on May 1 and its subsequent score after the process changed. And in the end, it didn’t win on any of its one-dozen project proposals, said One Energy CEO Tobin Booth.
“We protested the changes in process but we got no response, and the next thing we know, InClime and the PRC posted the project awards on Monday,” Booth told the Journal. “It just feels like something unfair is going on here.”
The PRC expects to review outstanding complaints next week.
“This was a highly competitive process with over 408 original bids, and with the few complaints we got, I think we’re doing pretty well,” O’Donnell said.