New Mexico taxpayers could get hit twice with school solar panel bill


Legislation pending in the New Mexico Legislature would see taxpayers there paying for the construction of new public school buildings and a mandate that those buildings be outfitted with solar panels.

Senate Bill 63, which passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday, requires any new public school built after July 21 of this year that receives funding from the state’s Public School Capital Outlay Council be outfitted with a “photovoltaic system sufficient to meet the energy needs” of the school. The bill would also provide reimbursement to existing schools that are retrofitted with solar panels.

“There are two big elements here,” said Larry Behrens, western states director for Power the Future. “Building the schools and reimbursing existing ones that add solar panels.”

Power the Future is a nonprofit trade group that supports the nation’s oil and gas workers and supports dialogue between the industry and environmentalists who are pushing for more renewable energy.

Behrens also pointed out that 30% of the money used to reimburse schools for building system replacements – which also include roofing, heating and cooling and fire alarms – comes from taxes paid by the oil and natural gas sector.

A fiscal impact report on Senate Bill 63 by the nonpartisan New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee says the bill would increase the cost of school construction between 1 and 3 percent. For smaller schools, that equates to less than $500,000, but could be as much as $2 million for larger schools and up to $1 million for medium-sized schools.

The LFC estimates that local contributions, in the form of bonds and taxes, could increase up to 3 percent, or $2.4 million, per project.

“It just keeps adding zeroes,” Behrens noted.

The legislation also faces other inconsistencies, Behrens said.

“If the proponents of renewable energy are right about what it offers, why does the government have to force school districts to buy this? It takes away local control.”

And according to the LFC’s fiscal impact report, it appears doubtful the expectations of the bill could be met.

New Mexico’s Public School Facility Authority says schools that have installed solar panels “typically plan for production capability to cover 65 percent to 80 percent of annual electricity consumption.” This is due to restrictions on the size of such systems by local utility providers and a lower return on investment because of a “longer payback period for larger systems.”

The LFC said school districts that have installed solar panels typically do not recuperate those costs for 10 to 15 years in the form of lower utility bills.

For those reasons, the analysis suggested the language of the legislation be changed to read that the solar panel systems be sufficient to meet “the majority” to meet the energy needs of the school.

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