This summer, Public Power New Mexico convened a focus group with leaders from local and Tribal governments and community-based organizations to explore policy options to solarize public buildings and infrastructure in New Mexico and leverage federal funding in the process. We are conducting ongoing outreach to local and Tribal governments, community-based organizations, solar industry organizations, community institutions, and federal funding experts throughout to understand where there are existing solar projects that power public buildings and infrastructure, and where there are plans and interest in doing so.
The biggest takeaway so far from our work is that there is great interest in developing solar and storage projects like this, but our rural communities are particularly under-resourced to access funding and financing to achieve these kinds of projects. Many of our rural communities don’t apply for federal funding, because it’s competitive, or requires matches that are prohibitive, or requires administration that costs more than the funding is worth. Many of our communities don’t have access to resources like grant writers or federal funding experts.
Most of the federal funding experts we’ve talked to reiterate that the federal government is “building the plane while flying it” in regards to the unprecedented Inflation Reduction Act funding on the table. Direct Pay provisions which open up funding to local and Tribal governments for the first time require a new process of filing tax returns which hasn’t been built yet, and can only be submitted after projects are completed. The timelines for this funding are uncertain, and some estimate that it could take as long as two years for local governments to be able to access this funding after projects are completed.
New Mexico needs capacity-building measures to fill in the gaps with all the new funding sources that are emerging on the table. And time is running out to maximize the investment of these federal funds into our communities. We’ve already missed opportunities, and many others are time-sensitive. Based on input we’ve received from our community outreach and the focus group we’ve conducted we’re working to develop a bill that would create an accessible grant fund at the state to help fill in these gaps, to provide accessible funding for shovel-ready solar and storage projects, as well as planning grants which will include contracting grant writers and federal funding experts, as well as technical expertise to plan solar projects, prioritizing grants that serve under-resourced and rural communities who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access funding for planning and construction of solar and storage projects. Please stay tuned to see what emerges!