We need energy navigators and the Match Fund Act in NM

In some ways, the state of Maine and the state of New Mexico are similar. They both have a population of about 2 million. The median household income for Maine is $68,251 — higher than New Mexico’s at $58,251. But households in Maine are going to be able to access far more benefits from the Inflation Reduction Act than those of us who live in New Mexico.

I wrote about the IRA and rebates and tax credits available in a recent article. In summary, it’s a free bank account to help you decarbonize your home. The government will pay you to electrify your home. You do have to qualify. A family of four near the median household income can get about $14,000 in rebates on upgrades. Those whose income is over $150,000 do not, but all taxpayers can get tax credits. New Mexico’s Home Energy Rebate program will not be in place until later this year. Tax credits are available now.

Maine is ahead of the game. There are both cost barriers and logistical barriers to obtaining these benefits. To help fill cost gaps and end confusion about these programs, several Maine communities came together and got a grant to fund “energy navigators” and provide extra funding for home energy upgrades.

Annie Ropeik, writing for the Energy News Network, explains that five towns and two regional nonprofits received an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. “The Grant will fund AmeriCorps members to provide one-on-one energy coaching for residents. These navigators will help identify the best cost- and emissions-cutting retrofits for each home and will help residents apply for a range of accompanying tax credits, rebates, and other incentives.” The grant also includes funding to help residents offset their remaining costs.

You can find information on these rebates online, but in our state, you can’t get much help in navigating your way through these programs and completing applications.

For information try https://350newmexico.org/electrify-new-mexico/ and 350 New Mexico’s energy experts will be providing one-on-one planning assistance at their Albuquerque Earth Day event, April 21, but that is it.

Wealthier individuals will just call their accountant and get all the help they need from paid consultants to maximize the benefits they qualify for. Many states and municipalities have informational websites on these programs. Los Alamos County has a website with information on the IRA. There is no state website. Not only do we have no state and local informational sites and bilingual sources for these programs, but our citizens also do not have the help and resources they need to navigate these programs, and that needs to change.

There is a lot of money available for states like New Mexico under both the IRA and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Gabriel Pacyniak, of the New Mexico Natural Resources and Environmental Law Clinic, in a recent article in the New Mexican explained why our Legislature needs to pass the Match Fund Act — HB 177 — introduced by Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque. This act would allocate $100 million to the Department of Finance and Administration to help state and local entities meet the funding match requirements for grants from the IRA and the Infrastructure Law.

Without matching funds, we don’t get the money, some other faster acting state does. Local entities often lack the technical and grant writing skills needed to pursue these funds. That is why the Match Fund Act is so important. As Pacyniak says, “By investing state funds to unlock federal funds, we can create a more connected and resilient New Mexico with more job options.”

The same is true for the household rebates and tax incentives that are available. The state needs to help us unlock those federal funds. That is why we need “energy navigators.” The state of New Mexico could create a fund like Maine’s to hire “navigators” and bilingual advocates. The state could help municipalities apply for grants like Maine’s grant. The money will be there for rebates and tax credits, but it will be underutilized unless households, both owners and renters, have help figuring out what they need and help applying for the available funds. And it will be used inequitably if only those who can hire “navigators” get the funding.

Let’s show Maine and other states how it can be done. I can imagine AmeriCorps workers throughout the state, sitting down with homeowners and renters and helping them maximize the benefits available to them to insulate, upgrade and save money electrifying their homes.

Published on February 2, 2024, in the Albuquerque Journal.

© Judith Polich. All Rights Reserved. May be republished with author’s written consent and proper attribution.

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