Janet Bridgers

 

There are times when it’s necessary to give a shout to solar energy supporters in New Mexico. This is one of them. The great progress we’ve made toward cleaner energy is again threatened.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, 8:30 am in Santa Fe, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) will hold a public comment hearing on PNM’s petition to amend the renewable portfolio standards here in New Mexico. Established during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, these standards call for regulated electric utilities to meet 15 percent of their electricity needs with renewable energy sources by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020.

Under this law, the renewable energy can come from new hydropower facilities, from fuel cells that are not fossil-fueled, and from biomass, solar, wind and geothermal sources.

PNM is petitioning for changes to the “Reasonable Cost Threshold” rule included in the renewables portfolio, which states that utilities don’t have to comply with the state law if adding renewables costs more than the “Reasonable Cost Threshold” set by the PRC. Last fall the PRC required PNM to include some financial benefits from renewable energy that had not been included in the past. PNM and its allies prefer to minimize or ignore any savings resulting from adding more wind and solar energy. 

In addition, the PRC may entirely remove requirements for a certain percentage of solar, geothermal, wind and rooftop solar. Since those rules were implemented in 2007, New Mexico has seen dramatic growth in rooftop solar, from almost zero solar to nearly 200 megawatts. Losing these requirements means utilities could fulfill their renewable requirements exclusively through wind energy, which is less expensive than solar. They could even meet the requirements through purchase of paper certificates from out-of-state wind farms, significantly impacting future solar-related investment and jobs here in New Mexico.

As if those potentially devastating effects were not enough, PNM is also asking for a $0.08/kilowatt “interconnection surcharge” from net-tied PV-system owners. In other words, if PV-system owners want to connect to PNM’s grid, rather than receiving a check from the utility for their help in offsetting the cost of building new power plants (referred to as “avoided capacity”), they will receive a bill to help pay for PNM’s “fixed cost recovery.” The utility asserts that all customers should share in the cost of the federally mandated renovations to the San Juan Generating System, as well as to the maintenance of the hardware such as transmission lines and substations that carry electricity throughout the state.

As the statutes currently exist, other than “avoided capacity” and “avoided fossil fuel,” there is no regulatory mechanism for calculating solar energy’s environmental and economic benefits to our state. Under the Martinez administration, there is no chance that such changes to the utility regulations would be made.

Even more alarming, the vigorous opposition to the avoided-capacity-cost rule is coming from the New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers (NMIEC), a trade association that opposes any increase in energy costs. It is backed by the attorney general, some PRC staffers and the Republican PRC commissioners.

The Democratic PRC commissioners who could conceivably vote against PNM’s requests hear constantly from PNM and the NMIEC lobbyists. If they do not hear from supporters of solar energy, they have little input on which to base a decision in solar’s favor.

The hearings will be held in the fourth-floor hearing room of the old PERA Building, located at 1120 Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe. This is the only opportunity remaining for public comment, as acceptance of written comments closed in late July.

 

 

Janet Bridgers is vice-president of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association.