Customers of New Mexico utility Southwestern Public Service Co. (SPS) will not have to worry about paying higher fees for producing their own solar energy; in fact, most solar customers will even see reductions in their total surcharge fees, according to nonprofit environmental advocacy groups Earthjustice and Vote Solar.
The two groups, in partnership with New Mexico attorney Jason Marks, say they have fought SPS’ proposal to increase a special charge on customers who produce renewable energy on their property.
Under a settlement agreement approved by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, SPS’ solar surcharge (technically known as “Rate No. 59, Distributed Generation Standby Service Rider”) will not increase and will drop for many, according to the nonprofits.
SPS first imposed the special charge in 2011; in October 2015, the utility proposed increasing it by 31% for residential customers and up to 48% for other groups of customers.
The settlement maintains the current rate charged for producing renewable energy on a home, small business, municipal building or school. For agricultural irrigation customers with renewable energy systems, the surcharge will drop by 20%. In addition, the surcharge will no longer apply to energy production that exceeds customers’ energy consumption that month.
The groups note that the rate hike would have threatened the growth of distributed solar and other clean energy resources in southeastern New Mexico.
In 2015, the state’s two other investor-owned utilities also sought to impose new fees for customers with rooftop solar systems. However, Earthjustice, Vote Solar and other advocates intervened in both proceedings – resulting in one withdrawn and one defeated in the commission’s legal proceedings.
“We applaud the commission for [yesterday’s] decision, which will prevent SPS from further penalizing solar customers for generating their own electricity – an investment that lowers energy costs, supports local jobs and improves health for families statewide,” says Rick Gilliam, Vote Solar’s program director. “This should send a clear signal to utilities around the country that are attempting to impose similar discriminatory fees that this tactic to curtail rooftop solar is as unconstructive as it is unfair.”