Egolf proposes tax districts for solar loans

By Staci Matlock: The New Mexican

New Mexico homeowners could get loans for solar electricity systems and pay back the money through their property taxes under a bill introduced Tuesday by Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

House Bill 572 would allow counties to establish special assessment districts for solar-energy improvements.

Egolf thinks it is the first bill of its kind in the nation.

The bill has bipartisan support and the New Mexico Association of Counties has given it a preliminary thumbs up, Egolf said.

He said Republicans supporting the bill like it because it requires no state funding and no additional state government bureaucracy. Democrats like the bill because it will stimulate jobs and help homeowners gain some energy independence.

If the bill passes, it would give counties the power to create special tax assessment districts for residents to make solar energy improvements such as solar hot-water systems, solar photovoltaic or solar heating systems.

Egolf said the idea is for county commissions to work with county assessors in establishing a district. Once established, homeowners could ask to be included in the district and go to a photovoltaic installer to pick out a system.

Either the installer or the homeowner would seek a 20-year loan for the solar-energy system from a bank, credit union or other financial institution. The lender would send a letter to the county assessor detailing the loan repayment. The payments would be added to the homeowner’s annual property tax bill.

“This is going to make buying a solar (PV) system like buying a car,” Egolf said.

Solar photovoltaic or thermal systems can run into the thousands of dollars, depending on how much electricity the system is sized to generate. People who didn’t have the cash upfront have had to get a second mortgage to buy a system with a more limited 10- to 15-year payback period, Egolf said. That left solar photovoltaics out of reach for many homeowners.

Allowing a longer payback and linking it to a property tax means the loan goes with the home and is not a personal debt of the homeowner. Meanwhile, a homeowner who purchases a solar photovoltaic system that is tied into the electric grid can benefit from state and federal tax credits. The homeowner, if a Public Service Company of New Mexico customer, is also paid 13 cents per kilowatt hour produced by the photovoltaic system.

Egolf said Santa Fe Web designer and avid green energy supporter Dan Baker gave him the idea for the bill.

The bill gives banks a secure repayment plan. It provides money to boost solar-energy system installations, increasing jobs for both installers and solar system producers.

Egolf said the idea is to boost solar electricity infrastructure quickly in preparation for an expected increase in plug-in electric vehicles. He said studies have found that if plug-ins became widely used right now, it would increase the need for electricity from coal-fired power plants and boost carbon dioxide emissions that many scientists currently associate with climate change.

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com.