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          Front Page  biz

PNM Withdraws 'Solar Access' Fee

By Michael Hartranft
Journal Staff Writer
          Public Service Company of New Mexico has withdrawn a "solar access" fee critics claimed would damage the solar industry in the proposed rate agreement the utility filed with state regulators.
        The original filing included an 8-cent-per-kilowatt-hour charge on owners of rooftop-type solar systems installed after the new rates take effect. But PNM agreed to take the charge out of the rate agreement filed last week.
        "It's part of the give and take of the negotiation process," said PNM spokeswoman Susan Sponar. "It certainly was of concern to many solar customers."
        That doesn't mean the fight is over. A number of groups filed documents with the Public Regulation Commission on Tuesday objecting to the agreement.
        "Many parties opposed to the new proposed rate hike were excluded from the settlement talks," said a news release from two of the groups, Prosperity Works and New Energy Economy. "If the new proposal is accepted, it will mean that one of the largest rate increases in New Mexico history will have been brokered by a back-room deal ... in violation of due process."
        Sponar said the process leading to the agreement was "inclusive." "The other intervenors had opportunity to review and comment even if they didn't sign off on the stipulation," she said.
        Another group opposed to the rate agreement, Western Resource Advocates, claims the stipulation will adversely affect environmental issues, energy efficiency, renewable energy and rate design. The Kroger Co., which also opposes the agreement, contends it doesn't properly account for the effects of federal legislation greatly accelerating depreciation for electric plants.
        Others objecting to the increase include the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy and Commercial Energy User Coalition.
        PNM's original rate filing in June requested a 21.2 percent rate. But it filed a proposed settlement reached after negotiations with the Attorney General's Office and PRC utility staff, calling for an $85 million, 10.8 percent rate increase. Among those signing off on the deal were New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers and Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
        Solar energy advocates claimed the proposed access fee would set back the growing industry and negate the credit incentives customers receive when they install small solar systems. PNM said customers with solar installations still depend on PNM for power at a moment's notice and that the fee would recover the customer share of the investment needed to maintain the system.

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