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Solar industry, PNM calling for consumer protection law

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With solar systems popping up on New Mexico homes and businesses like roses in spring, local industry and utility leaders say it’s high time for a new consumer protection law.

The state Legislature could deliver it during this year’s session, where a new bill was introduced last Saturday by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola, to enforce transparency in all new solar system contracts with consumers. House Bill 199 is now assigned to the Business and Industry Committee, and Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, is expected to introduce a companion bill in the Senate this week.

The legislation, crafted by Public Service Co. of New Mexico with support from New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Industry Association and some major solar companies, is aimed at transparency, providing full disclosure on all key details consumers need before committing to buy or lease a system, said Ryan Centerwall, CEO of Albuquerque-based Affordable Solar.

“It attempts to identify upfront all the benefits and costs,” Centerwall said. “It mandates disclosure of all the things consumers need to consider.”

That includes everything from homeowner responsibilities when selling their house to complete disclosure of all fees and assumptions used to calculate savings from going solar. The Attorney General’s Office would enforce the law.

“This gives the Attorney General the ability to go after any fly-by-night companies,” said Consolidated Solar Techonologies president and CEO James Mosher. “It’s all about being straight up with your clients.”

The bill helps addresses industry “growing pains” as rooftop systems spread across the state, said Mathew Jaramillo of PNM’s government affairs department. PNM now has 8,669 private solar customers connected to the grid, up from just 4,000 in 2014.

“It’s really taken off in the last two or three years,” Jaramillo said. “Customers have contacted us who feel they were misinformed on the complexity of their contracts…This provides consumers with all the information they need to understand everything.”

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