ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Public Service Co. of New Mexico has reaffirmed a commitment to build five new solar plants next year to boost the utility’s renewable energy to 20 percent of retail electric sales by 2020.
The Public Regulation Commission approved PNM’s 2019 renewable energy plan last week. The plan, submitted annually to the PRC, lays out efforts to meet the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires that public utilities derive 20 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewable sources by 2020.
PNM now gets more than 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
The new plan essentially reaffirms projects PNM outlined in its current, 2018 plan, which included construction of 50 more megawatts of PNM-owned solar generation in 2019. The current plan also calls for extending existing contracts with third-party power producers to buy more wind and geothermal electricity from plants that are now being upgraded to increase output.
Under the new 2019 plan, the utility’s renewable energy rate rider, which residential and commercial customers pay for as a line item on their monthly bills, will increase slightly. Residential customers who consume an average of 600 kilowatt hours of electricity will pay about 55 cents more per month, raising the monthly charge from about $3.77 now to about $4.32 starting in January, said Patrick O’Connell, PNM’s director of planning and resources.
That will raise PNM’s rate rider revenue from about $42.8 million this year to $49.6 million in 2019. That helps cover increased construction costs from the new solar plants, plus purchase of renewable energy certificates to reach the 20 percent RPS target if there’s a shortfall in renewable generation.
“The renewable energy plan gets us to 20 percent by 2020,” O’Connell said. “It’s been approved by the PRC and we’re moving forward on it.”
The cost for that generation is shared differently among customer classes. As very large customers, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and the University of New Mexico are exempt from paying renewable energy charges. In addition, large-scale industrial customers pay less than residential and commercial customers through a cap on the renewable rate rider.
Renewable advocates want those rules changed so large customers pay more, said Chuck Noble, attorney for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy. They also want the state Legislature to increase the renewable portfolio standard next year to at least 50 percent by 2030, or possibly higher.
“PNM has said in the past that it could reach 50 percent by 2030,” Noble said. “We think it can get even higher than that by 2035 or 2040.”
The five new solar plants will raise PNM-owned solar generation from 107 MW now to 155 MW by year-end 2019. The company derives another 302 MW from two wind facilities operated by third parties.
Separately, the company plans to supply about 400 MW of solar and wind-generated electricity to the Facebook data center in Los Lunas from newly built PNM plants or third-party facilities.