2021 Legislative Session Overview

By Jim DesJardins, REIA-NM Executive Director

Introduction:

The 2021 legislative session was notable for the fact, that even in a pandemic, that it did happen.  While committee hearings were remote, the Senate chamber was in person and the House chamber was a combination of remote and in-person.  The uniqueness of the format, along with a number of controversial bills that took a lot of time, resulted in less bills being passed.

Summary of Bills:

Some of the controversial bills in the 2021 legislative session included SB10-Repeal Abortion Ban (passed and signed), HB20-Healthy Work Places Act known as Paid Sick Leave (Passed and Signed), HB2-Cannabis Regulation Act (Passed) and SB84-Community Solar Act (Passed and Signed).  Legislation that was of particular interest to REIA included SB84-Community Solar Act and SB201/HB262-Energy Storage System Tax Credit.

SB84-Community Solar Act was very interesting to observe as it evolved through the session.  There was a working group for this bill over the summer and fall of 2020 that was created by SM63 and the subsequent report became the basis for this bill. Through the course of the 2021 session, REIA changed their position from advocating for 2 MW project cap to having a local preference that was vocalized by a number of REIA members in the Senate Transportation committee hearing.  Afterwards, REIA had conversations with key stakeholders for the bill.  As the bill was brought up for a vote on the Senate floor, Senators Ivy Soto and Duhigg introduced an amendment that really was about 14 amendments that included a local preference (5% for local business and 10% for local veteran owned business).  However, most of these amendments weakened the bill and made the implementation of Community Solar much less appealing.  Some of these changes in the amendment, but not the local preference, were undone by another amendment introduced in the House State Government, Elections Indian Affairs committee.  The bill passed on the House floor after much debate and after most of the Republicans walked off the floor.  On April 5th, the bill was signed by the Governor.

SB301/HB262-Energy Storage System Tax Credit was a bill that was run by REIA with retired Rep. Abbas Akhil.  It built on the bill that Abbas Akhil sponsored in the 2020 session that called for a 40% tax credit.  However, unlike the bill that Abbas Akhil sponsored, this bill applied to all utilities and rate plans.  Senator Sedillo Lopez agreed to sponsor the bill in the Senate (SB301) and Rep. Sarinana sponsored the bill in the House (HB262).  Unfortunately, Senator Sedillo Lopez did not push the bill (at the time she was running an unsuccessful bid to be the Democratic nominee for CD-1) and the Senate bill was never heard in its first committee.  The House bill fared much better, easily passing the House Energy, Enviroment & Natural Resources with diverse support from PNM, Sierra Club, Vote Solar, 350-NM and REIA.  This support was also visible in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee with additional support from the Home Builders Association and it went on to pass the House floor.  The next stop was the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation committee where it languished for a couple weeks before finally getting on the agenda in the last week of the session.  Unfortunately, at this point, it was too late for the bill to have a realistic chance of passing as it still had to go to the Senate Finance committee and the Senate floor and it was not heard in favor of other bills that had a better chance of passing.  Still, not a bad run for this bill that has the potential to jump start the behind the meter energy storage business. 

Senator Bill Soules had a number of appealing bills, but unfortunately none of them passed.  SB132-Photovoltaic Systems in New Homes passed its first committee, Senate Conservation, but was never heard in its next committee, the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation committee; this committee would prove to be the final resting place for a number of other bills.  Other bills by Senator Soules included: SB29-Cost of Photovoltaic Systems that would have enabled half of the cost of a photovoltaic system for a school being remodeled to be paid for by Public School, but did not get voted on the House floor; SB63_Photovoltaic Systems in New Schools died in the Senate Finance committee; SB113-Wiring for Photovoltaic Systems made it to the Senate Calendar but did not get a vote.  I have since talked with Senator Soules and we agreed to catch up again in the late summer; he is contemplating sponsoring a bill to have solar on all state buildings.

HB299-Improvement Special Assessment Act sponsored by Representative Small was a well thought out Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) bill that was introduced late, but did make it out of the House to die in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  It had diverse support and I believe with more time, this bill has a chance of passing.  I talked with Representative Small after the session and advised him of our continued interest in this bill. 

Senator Tallman’s SB58-Electric Vehicle Charging Unit Credit proposed a tax credit for purchases of an Electric Vehicle (EV).  Last year in the 30 day session, this bill almost passed, running out of time on the House floor.  This year, it never was voted on in its first committee, the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation. 

SB29-State Agency Renewable Energy Purchases was sponsored by Senators Hickey and Stewart.  This bill would have made it easier for state agencies to purchase electricity from renewable sources.  Unfortunately, this bill got stuck in the Senate Judiciary committee. 

 There were some bills that REIA supported, other than Community Solar that did pass including SB93-Broadband Access & Expansion that calls for a state office to plan broadband expansion.  Another bill that REIA supported was SB112-Sustainable Economy Task Force that was sponsored by Senator Stewart to research how to evolve our economy from a reliance on extractive industries to more sustainable means.  While these two bills are not directly tied to the mission of REIA, I believe it is important to support some significant legislation that is aimed at the greater good of all New Mexicans.

Final Word

On a recent legislative wrap up call that was sponsored by 350-NM that had a panel composed of Senator Sedillo Lopez, Representative Romero and the Sierra Club Rio Grande Director, Camilla Feibelman, it was noted how many good bills never made it out of committee.  There was also some discussion that New Mexico needs to extend their legislative session and have paid legislators.  It is believed by many that this will help New Mexico be more functional and provide better services to the state.  If such an initiative is formed, I think that REIA would be well advised to be part of it.