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PNM’s Energy Plans OK’d

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Public Service Company of New Mexico will add 20 megawatts of industrial-scale solar energy and 10 megawatts of its first-ever geothermal generation to the utility’s electric grid.

That’s enough new capacity to supply electricity to 17,400 average homes.

The Public Regulation Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved PNM’s plan, which outlines the utility’s renewable procurements for 2013 and 2014.

PNM will spend about $45 million to build two new solar plants in Valencia and Otero counties, and to expand its current solar plants in Los Lunas and Deming. Those additions will increase the company’s solar generating capacity statewide to 42.5 megawatts.

It will also sign a 20-year power purchasing agreement with Cyrq Energy Inc., a Utah company that is investing $100 million to construct the Lightning Dock geothermal electric plant near Lordsburg. That plant is expected to come online in January 2014, providing 10 megawatts of electricity to PNM, and marking the first utility-scale geothermal electric project in New Mexico.

The investments will have minimal impact on ratepayers, said PNM spokeswoman Susan Sponar. PNM customers currently pay about $1.34 a month for renewable fuels, with only a slight increase expected in 2013.

“The plan’s costs amount to about 2.17 percent of total revenue,” Sponar said.

PNM will also provide subsidies for 11 more megawatts of customer-owned solar photovoltaic installations. That includes 9 megawatts for systems that generate less than 100 kilowatts, and 2 megawatts for larger installations. The utility will pay the incentives on a declining scale through 2016.

Finally, the PRC approved renewable energy certificate purchases in 2013 for power from existing wind and solar plants run by other utilities.

In a separate vote, the PRC approved a PNM plan to add 1.5 megawatts of solar electricity to its Sky Blue program, through which customers can voluntarily opt to pay more on their bills to support renewable generation. Until now, Sky Blue payments only went to procure electricity from wind power.

PNM submitted its renewable energy procurement plan last spring to comply with New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires public utilities to derive at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources this year, 15 percent in 2015 and 20 percent in 2020.

Under a PRC-imposed cost cap, or renewable cost threshold, utilities must keep the price of renewables to a maximum of 2.25 percent of total revenue this year, and 3 percent after 2015, to reduce the cost impact on customers.

The utility had said in fall 2011 that it could not meet the portfolio standard’s 10 percent requirement this year without violating the cost cap. But the newly approved procurements are expected to bring PNM into compliance in 2013 and 2014, drawing praise from environmentalists who intervened in support at the PRC.

“We’re glad PNM was able to develop a plan with PRC approval to get compliant in a cost-effective way,” said Steve Michel, general counsel for Western Resource Advocates.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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