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State approves PNM solar plan, despite objections

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State regulators approved Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s plan last week to build 50 more megawatts of solar power and procure more geothermal and wind energy from current facilities.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 to accept the plan, despite recommendations by hearing examiner Carolyn Glick to reject PNM’s solar and geothermal proposals.

One environmental group, New Energy Economy, has petitioned the commission to reconsider its decision. It says it will appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court if those efforts fail.

Commissioners rejected Glick’s conclusion that PNM’s process for choosing a company to build new solar facilities was “unfair and uncompetitive.”

Glick said PNM’s “request for proposals” for new solar generation disadvantaged independent power producers by prohibiting them from owning and operating solar plants on sites PNM had pre-selected for new facilities. That forced them to instead offer to build facilities on separate sites with full transmission plans and a fixed price structure laid out in advance.

That, combined with the RFP’s 31-day limit on responses, meant independent suppliers were denied a fair opportunity to compete, limiting PNM’s ability to show that its final bid selection was the most cost-effective for ratepayers, Glick said.

In the end, PNM chose Albuquerque company Affordable Solar to build five,10 MW solar plants that the utility itself will own and operate.

Three commissioners rejected Glick’s conclusions, arguing that a previous RFP last December with similar conditions and a 41-day response limit generated 31 bids, including nine from independent power producers. And, in the latest 50 MW RFP, no potential bidders submitted any complaints or protests.

“In the latest RFP there were multiple responses by third-party developers, and two of them actually produced a bid,” said Commissioner Sandy Jones, who approved PNM’s plan together with commissioners Cynthia Hall and Lynda Lovejoy. “None of the RFP respondents complained that there wasn’t enough time in the process.”

Those commissioners also rejected Glick’s concern that PNM didn’t consider potentially cheaper alternatives when it decided to amend its current contract to procure more electricity from the Lightning Dock geothermal plant in southern New Mexico, extending that contract by nearly nine years. They said the new agreement sets lower fixed prices that will save consumers money.

PNM praised the commission’s approval.

“This ruling will benefit customers, local renewable energy companies, and local communities for years to come,” said PNM spokesman Pahl Shipley.

But NEE, which claims PNM stacked the deck in its RFP to gain ownership over the planned solar facilities, filed a motion for reconsideration by the commission.

Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, who opposed the ruling together with Commissioner Pat Lyons, has granted an NEE request that other parties file expedited briefs on NEE’s motion, which could come before the commission next week.

“We want the commission to reconsider its decision,” NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi told the Journal. “We will definitely appeal to the Supreme Court if we don’t prevail.”

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