Solar execs respond to NM lawmakers’ push on tax credits

By Rachel Sapin
Read the full article as it appears in Albuquerque Business First

New Mexico’s top solar companies said lawmakers should get behind a bill that aims to grow the industry while creating jobs.

According to the Associated Press, state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are trying to reinstate a tax credit that prompted nearly $250 million of investment in rooftop solar. The credit expired in 2016 due to budget concerns.

Paul Mooney, a sales manager with Albuquerque-based Osceola Energy, which grossed $1.5 million in 2015 and ranked as the sixth highest-grossing solar and renewable energy company in New Mexico, said tax credits are essential for the solar industry’s success.

“We would sell a fraction of what we sell now if we weren’t able to take 30 to 40 percent of off the cost,” said Mooney.

He said while New Mexico may be one of the sunniest states in the U.S., the industry suffers from two disadvantages. The first, he said, is that New Mexico’s electricity rates are still relatively competitive with solar, compared to states like California where solar is booming.

He said New Mexico also does not have a property-assessed clean energy (PACE) program that allows states to fund the up-front cost of energy improvements on commercial and residential properties, which are paid back over time by the property owners, often through a real estate tax.

Mooney also said reinstating tax credits and creating a state PACE program would only begin to help make solar more affordable for New Mexicans. Right now, he said residential solar in New Mexico is mostly bought by people who have high incomes and high tax liability, even with the current federal tax credit of 30 percent.

Regina Wheeler, CEO of Albuquerque-based SunPower by Positive Energy Solar, which made $12.98 million in 2015 and r anked as the second highest-grossing solar and renewable energy company in New Mexico, agreed.

“We’re totally in favor [of the bill] because it makes solar more affordable for New Mexico and is stimulating a lot of job creation,” she said.

In a recent presentation to state lawmakers, she said ending New Mexico’s state tax credit last year slowed New Mexico’s industry by 20 percent. She also pointed to data from The Solar Foundation that showed New Mexico had nearly 2,000 solar-industry jobs in 2015 and was projected to grow by 12 percent in 2016.

According to the 2015 Solar Job Census, New Mexico has about 1,900 solar jobs, 20.9 percent of which are manufacturing jobs. New Mexico was ranked ninth in the country for solar jobs per capita. Bernalillo County houses the most jobs, according to the report.

Most recently, Albuquerque-based Array Technologies Inc. announced it’s expanding to the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey in 2017.