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PRC restores solar energy credits

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A detail of the new solar panels at Rio Rancho High School, photographed on Oct. 16, 2013. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

A detail of the new solar panels at Rio Rancho High School, photographed on Oct. 16, 2013. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

A public backlash against the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission’s recent decision to soften renewable-energy diversity mandates for public utilities led to repeal Wednesday of some controversial regulations.

In a 3-2 vote, the commission reversed its Nov. 20 decision to award double the credits to utilities for each kilowatt of solar electricity they add when complying with state renewable requirements. Utilities will get one credit for each kilowatt of solar.

Commissioners also lowered from three to two the number of credits that utilities earn for “other” types of renewables, such as geothermal and biomass. In November, it had increased those credits from one to three.

Commissioner Patrick Lyons proposed the new modifications to appease alternative energy advocates, who had warned that they may seek relief through the Supreme Court against the November changes to renewable rules.

Those organizations said awarding double and triple credits for solar and other sources would allow utilities to put less of those resources on the grid, while lowering the total amount of alternative generation needed for state compliance.

LYONS: Proposed modifications to mandates

LYONS: Proposed modifications to mandates

Utilities must derive 10 percent of their electricity from renewables now, 15 percent by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020. And, under the PRC’s diversity mandates, companies must acquire 30 percent of renewable generation from wind, 20 percent from solar and 5 percent from other sources.

“We got lots of emails and protest letters telling us they weren’t happy,” Lyons told the Journal. “The two-to-one solar credits were the most controversial thing. The solar industry didn’t want that, so we changed it in a spirit of cooperation.”

Lyons, fellow Republican Ben Hall, and Democrat Theresa Becenti-Aguilar approved the modifications. They were the same commissioners who voted for the original rule changes in November.

Democrats Karen Montoya and Valerie Espinoza, who voted against the changes in November, also opposed the modifications on Wednesday, but not because they disagreed with removing the extra credits. Rather, they said the process should include more public input.

Clean energy advocates praised the PRC for the solar credit changes, but they expressed concern that the “other” credits were not lowered back to one-to-one.

The PRC also unanimously approved PNM’s 2014 renewable plan, which calls for three new solar generating plants next year in Valencia and Sandoval counties, adding 23 megawatts of solar electricity to PNM’s system. The company also will begin purchasing 102 megawatts more of wind-generated electricity from the Red Mesa Wind Energy Center, located about 50 miles west of Albuquerque.

The plan brings PNM fully into compliance with the renewable mandates through 2015. It will add an extra 83 cents per month to the average residential bill next year, raising the renewable rate rider paid by customers from $1.83 per month now to $2.66 in 2014.

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