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SOLAR ENERGY, GREEN JOBS ARE BIG WINNERS IN 2009 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

SOLAR ENERGY, GREEN JOBS ARE BIG WINNERS IN 2009 LEGISLATIVE SESSIONThe 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