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PNM seeks more solar, wind and geothermal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s 2018 renewable energy plan calls for 50 more megawatts of solar energy, plus higher output from current wind and geothermal resources.

The company submitted the plan to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission this summer to comply with the state Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires public utilities to derive 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, up from 15 percent now.

The PRC on Friday wrapped up hearings on the proposal. The plan supported or unopposed by most environmental groups, except for New Energy Economy, which says PNM stacked the deck in its procurement process to gain ownership over the new solar facilities, rather than considering  purchase agreements with independent power producers.

PNM and other environmentalists rejected those arguments in the hearing.

If approved by the PRC, PNM would pay local development company Affordable Solar to build five small solar farms that PNM would then own. That’s based on a request for proposals that showed that plan is the most cost effective.

But New Energy Economy says the RFP excluded proposals for independent power producers to own plants on pre-selected sites where PNM owns the land, forcing those bidders to instead offer separate sites with full transmission plans and a fixed price structure laid out in advance. The RFP’s 31-day limit on responses made that difficult, the group said.

“We want solar, but we don’t want PNM to corner the market and own it all,” Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said.

PNM Director of Planning and Resources Pat O’Connell said the RFP allowed companies to bid on the utility’s pre-selected sites and on their own sites.

“That’s fair,” O’Connell said. “Allowing everyone to bid on our smaller sites makes it easier for smaller companies like Affordable Solar to compete.”

Likewise, Chuck Noble, attorney for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, said PNM ownership appears cost-effective. It offers ratepayers a fixed cost for electricity for the full life of a plant without PNM having to negotiate a new purchasing agreement with a third party at potentially higher cost once the first contract expires.

In addition, allowing PNM to own facilities gives it more incentive to acquire renewable energy, said Steve Michel, chief counsel for Western Resource Advocates.

“I think it’s misleading to suggest PNM insists on owning everything,” Michel said. “Of PNM’s total renewable portfolio today, two-thirds of the revenue goes to funding power purchase agreements and payment for renewable energy credits. Only one-third goes for plants it owns.”

PNM does own all the 15 solar plants it operates today. But it has a right to earn a profit for its services, making the issue more about hurting the utility than protecting the environment, Michel added.

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