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Alternative-energy advocates target industry group

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solarA coalition of alternative energy advocates, solar businesses and pair of city councilors have fired the opening shots in what may be a prolonged battle with the New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers group.

NMIEC, which represents some of New Mexico’s largest electricity consumers, is working to obstruct renewable energy development in the state, the coalition said in a news conference on Wednesday. They called on the University of New Mexico, the City of Albuquerque and Intel Corp. to withdraw as members of the organization.

In particular, the coalition said NMIEC was the driving force behind the state Public Regulation Commission’s recent decision to soften renewable-energy diversity mandates. In addition, they said the industry group is now pushing the PRC to reject a Public Service Company of New Mexico proposal to add 23 more megawatts of solar energy to its grid.

“The city of Albuquerque should not be a party to diminishing New Mexico as a leader in solar, wind and other clean energy production,” said City Councilor Isaac Benton, who joined the coalition along with City Councilor Diane Gibson, both Democrats. “PNM … plans to build three solar installations near metro Albuquerque. These big energy users want the PRC to reject those solar projects. That is bad for New Mexico, and especially bad for Albuquerque.”

NMIEC general counsel Peter Gould said his group has not opposed renewable energy development, but rather, has worked to balance the impact on ratepayers as utilities comply with the state’s renewable portfolio standard. That standard obligates companies to derive at least 10 percent of their electricity from clean sources now, 15 percent in 2015 and 20 percent in 2020.

“The Renewable Energy Act requires the PRC to balance the interests of consumers and public stakeholders as they oversee utility compliance with the Act,” Gould told the Journal. “We haven’t advocated for or against renewable energy, we’ve simply asked the commission to follow the law as written. We’ve taken pro-consumer positions to protect against excessive electric rates.”

Gould said his group advocated for changes in the PRC’s diversity mandates, which require utilities to include a mix of alternative energy sources on the grid, because they force companies to buy expensive things like solar or geothermal rather than just procure cheaper energy like wind. Those arguments, also supported by the Attorney General’s Office, contributed to the PRC decision on Nov. 20 to award utilities double the credits for solar procurements and triple credits for things like geothermal to make it cheaper to comply with diversity requirements.

Environmental and alternative energy advocates say those changes will lead to less renewable energy on the grid in violation of the renewable standard. They plan to either seek a re-hearing at the PRC, or appeal the changes directly to the state Supreme Court.

They also say NMIEC is now using the new rules to roll back solar procurements by PNM, which has proposed to build 23 MW of new solar capacity in its 2014 renewable procurement plan, now pending approval at the PRC. NMIEC filed a brief on Nov. 27 asking that the PRC apply the new rules to PNM’s case, even though they haven’t taken effect yet, since the doubling of solar credits means PNM already has enough solar on its system.

“We asked the commission to apply the new rules to the current case so that ratepayers can benefit from them now rather than later,” Gould said.

PNM told the Journal it still wants PRC approval to add the new solar.

NMIEC’s actions reflect a long-term pattern of obstructionism that contradicts public positions by some NMIEC members, according to alternative energy advocates.

“UNM has been recognized for its sustainable energy development efforts, Intel has said repeatedly that it supports clean initiatives, and the city has advocated for green policies, but NMIEC is actively working against solar and other types of renewable energy development,” said Patrick Griebel, of Affordable Solar and the Renewable Energy Industry Association. “There seems to be a real disconnect there.”

The coalition plans a public education campaign about NMIEC’s actions to pressure UNM, Intel and the city to withdraw. Benton and Gibson said they will also take action at the City Council.

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