I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Solar energy, green jobs are big winners in 2009 legislative session
The 2009 New Mexico legislative session may be remembered by many as the one when the money stopped flowing and painful budget decisions had to be made. But renewable energy advocates say 2009 is actually the year when state government got on board the renewable energy bandwagon.
“We’re pleased about everything that happened — the solar energy incentives plus the green jobs bills,” said Mike Mattioli, principal with Consolidated Solar Technologies.
“When you look at the number of renewable energy bills that passed in the aggregate,” he continued, “it gives you reassurance that our legislators are not just talking the talk — they’re walking the walk too.”
One of the sponsors of those bills, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said he and other legislators arrived in January with ideas about renewable energy, creating a synergy of sorts on the topic.
“A lot of us came to the session knowing that fostering renewable energy was the right thing to do,” he said. “So we had this tremendous opportunity to make sure our ideas worked together.”
Egolf, along with Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Ben Rodefer, D-Corrales, sponsored a key package of legislation passed this year that provides incentives to install solar systems on residential and commercial properties.
Such programs, Mattioli said, have been “woefully missing in New Mexico,” even though the state sees more sunshine than just about any other state.
Property owners will be able to finance solar installations using county programs that allow them to pay off the cost of the system through a special property tax assessment.
Mattioli said this will give a big boost to the solar energy industry, because it will largely eliminate the upfront cost of putting in solar systems. A residential system, he said, can run from $22,000 to $30,000, and a commercial system from $50,000 to $60,000.
“Because it’s tied to the house as a special assessment to property taxes, the owner won’t have to take on a second mortgage to put in a solar system,” Mattioli said. “When they sell the house, the next person just takes up the payment until it’s paid off. But the cost is offset by the reduction in the utility bill.”
Patrick Griebel, a board member of the Renewable Energy Industry Association, said the bills sponsored by Wirth and Rodefer are designed to leverage federal stimulus money. Egolf’s bill, he explained, was designed to create a private financing scheme for the incentive program that would last beyond the duration of the stimulus money.
Another bill, SB 257, extends the state’s solar tax credit program, which was originally designed to fill a gap in a federal program.
Previously the federal government had in place a program that allowed a 30-percent tax credit on the cost of a solar installation, up to $2,000. The state tax credit filled the gap between the $2,000 cap and 30 percent of the actual cost of installation.
Now the feds have lifted the cap, leaving in place an across-the-board, 30-percent federal tax credit on the cost of putting in a solar system. This rendered the state tax credit moot until SB 257 allowed a 10-percent state tax credit above and beyond the federal credit.
Unlike the federal program, New Mexico’s has a quality control requirement to get the credit, which is good for the industry, Greibel said.
“People were burned by the solar industry in the 1980s,” he explained. “There were a lot of snake oil salesmen who would install systems incorrectly. But the state requirements to qualify for the credit are stringent — you have to submit documentation, an inspection certificate, photos, specifications.”
Hand in hand with the incentives passed by the Legislature were two “green jobs” bills designed to bolster a pipeline of jobs into the renewable energy sector.
One bill, HB 622, sponsored by Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, created a green jobs fund, from which higher education institutions would create green job-training programs. The fund was originally supposed to receive money from bonds issued by the New Mexico Finance Authority. That provision was eliminated, however, and now the fund is designed to receive appropriations from federal green jobs programs plus any other appropriations.
And SB 318, sponsored by Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, requires a minimum of $1 million of the state’s Job Training Incentive Program funds be used for jobs training in the green energy industry.
The JTIP fund is one of the main economic development incentives offered by the state, but it’s previously been limited to jobs created by companies that are net exporters — those that export more of their product than they sell inside the state. This means that mainly manufacturing companies have been eligible. The current exception is the film industry, and this bill now adds green jobs as an exception, regardless of what kind of company creates them.
The green jobs bills are important, Mattioli said, because the incentives passed this year will ultimately lead to a sustainable industry, with a solid jobs base.
“Most importantly,” Mattioli said, “is the groundswell of jobs these programs will lead to. We’re already looking ahead at the training that needs to happen, because we know there will be a huge deficit of qualified installation people once these programs get rolling. We’ve seen that happen in other states that have implemented similar programs.”