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Santa Fe, New Mexico: Advancing Renewable Energy Goals Through SolSmart

Santa Fe, New Mexico recently became a SolSmart Bronze designee as the third community in New Mexico to achieve SolSmart designation. Among other achievements, Santa Fe limits solar permit fees to $40, sets a three-day turnaround time for issuing permits, allows solar by-right in all zones, and published an online permitting checklist.

“At the heart of our commitment to sustainability is a transition to renewable energy,” said Mayor Alan Webber. “To make that happen, we’re helping people get fast and easy permits for solar installation. We’re going solar as fast as we can.”

For this historic city that enjoys over 300 days of sunshine, SolSmart is one piece of a long-term strategy to meet ambitious sustainable development goals (the city also received a LEED Gold Certification this year from the U.S. Green Building Council). Santa Fe’s 2018 sustainability plan calls for the city to achieve 50% renewable energy by 2025 and become carbon-neutral by 2040. The city’s path toward reaching these milestones extends across all energy sectors including renewables, energy efficiency, and transportation.

Recent developments at the state level will help advance Santa Fe’s goals. In 2019, the governor signed the Energy Transition Act requiring carbon-free electricity for most utilities by 2045. The state’s largest electricity provider, PNM, has pledged to achieve this goal by 2040. This summer, the state public utilities commission approved the closure of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station that serves Santa Fe. In its place will be renewable energy, with plans in the works for 650 MW of solar power and 350 MW of battery storage.

Santa Fe plans to tap into this statewide renewable energy growth by decarbonizing the building sector, says Neal Denton, the city’s sustainability planner. The city is part of the Architecture 2030 Challenge to make new buildings carbon-neutral by 2030. Residential builders are required to meet a green building code through energy efficiency, renewable energy installations, or a combination of both. “It gives the regulated community the flexibility that’s needed to really make these policies work in a way that doesn’t have an adverse effect on affordability of homes,” Denton says.

The green building code, which currently applies to single-family residences, will soon be expanded to multi-family buildings and later to commercial buildings. The city will also move toward reducing carbon use in existing buildings as well as in new construction. To achieve the 2040 zero-carbon goal, homes and businesses will eventually have to go 100% electric and eliminate the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas, Denton says.

So far, a small but growing portion of Santa Fe residents have chosen to go solar; in 2019, about 7% of the energy produced in the metro area came from customer-supplied renewables, Denton notes. Santa Fe is encouraging homeowners to take advantage of a new 10% state tax credit for solar installation, and Santa Fe County, a SolSmart Bronze designee, offers free technical assistance to help homeowners choose the best options for solar installations. The city government hopes to encourage solar installations through its expedited permit reviews and limit on fees. This spring, in response to COVID-19, the city further streamlined the process by moving permit applications online.

Santa Fe is also leading by example by placing solar on government buildings: 4.2 MW of renewable energy is currently on nine municipal facilities, with plans to add another 2.8 MW of solar in the near future. A combined heat and power system is going up on a wastewater facility that currently utilizes 1.2 MW of solar energy, fulfilling 94% of the facility’s energy use once the system is installed. The city is electrifying its administrative vehicle fleet and will install EV charging stations at some of the new solar arrays.

With an eye toward a low-carbon future, Santa Fe’s SolSmart designation makes it clear that the city provides a welcoming business environment for renewable energy. “This SolSmart designation helps us show to the world that Santa Fe is a solar-friendly city,” Denton says.