Separate utility rates for solar owners defeated in New Mexico

In the ongoing battle between utilities and solar advocates which is playing out across the nation, the bad news usually gets the biggest headlines. However, in the last few months there have been a string of victories for PV system owners and the solar industry in proceedings on net metering and rates and charges for solar.

Earlier this month, New York suspended the caps on its net metering program until a new program is developed under the REV process, and Arizona abandoned a controversial hearing on new fees for solar customers. In August, Nevada suspended its net metering cap until the end of 2015, New Jersey raised its net metering caps, and Colorado ruled that it would not modify its program.

One notable exception is Hawaii, where net metering was abruptly halted earlier this month and will be replaced with new policies. However, Hawaii has very different grid circumstances including a much higher penetration of distributed solar than any other state.

As the latest victory, on Wednesday regulators in New Mexico threw out El Paso Electric Company’s (EPE) proposal to create a separate rate class with higher charges for its residential customers who deploy rooftop solar and other forms of distributed generation.

Wednesday’s ruling overturns September decisions by a hearing examiner to dismiss challenges by the Alliance for Solar Choice and Vote Solar Initiative.

Ultimately, it came down to a question of law. “EPE’s attack on solar is inconsistent with New Mexico law that protects customers who have invested in renewable energy,” explains Earthjustice Attorney Sara Gersen.

In Wednesday’s ruling the commission found that the use of discriminatory charges raised “purely legal issues”, and did not require a full hearing as such charges are not permitted under state law.

According to GTM Research, New Mexico has the 11th- largest online solar capacity among U.S. states. However, the bulk of what has been installed is utility-scale solar, giving the state only a mid-sized distributed solar market.

However, the impact of the ruling is likely to extend beyond the state’s borders. “This ruling should encourage utilities across the country to think twice before trying to discriminate against customers who choose to go solar,” stated Gersen.