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PNM on board with new energy goals

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Public Service Company of New Mexico says it’s ready to work with state government on making New Mexico a national leader on clean energy development.

In fact, its latest Integrated Resource Plan, approved by the Public Regulation Commission in December, sets PNM on a path to derive 50 percent of its electricity from renewables in the near future by pulling entirely out of coal generation by 2031 and replacing much of that power with solar, wind and other resources.

“We want to move where the governor wants to move,” said PNM Director of Planning and Resources Pat O’Connell. “We acknowledge the tremendous potential for renewables.”

During her inaugural address on Jan. 1, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for a new mandate on public utilities to derive 50 percent of all generation from renewables by 2030, and possibly 80 percent by 2040. The state’s current renewable portfolio standard (RPS), approved in 2007, requires 20 percent from renewables by 2020.

“The new RPS is a legislative priority under the governor’s clean energy plan,” said Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary-designate of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. “We’re still discussing the numbers, but a lot of other states have joined the 50 percent renewable club by 2030, and we want to be the newest member.”

The state’s new land commissioner, Stephanie Garcia Richard, supports the governor’s goals, with plans to promote more renewable development on state lands using incentives to make clean energy projects here more competitive with other states.

“We’ll begin talking with industry representatives and local communities to make it happen,” she said. “Only a small footprint is needed on state lands because we have such robust resources. New Mexico has the third best solar potential in the nation and the 10th best for wind.”

A pronghorn antelope saunters through El Cabo Wind Farm near Encino. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Still many issues must be worked out, such as comprehensive transmission development to get more wind and solar generation from power plant to market, and realistic timeframes to transition from low- and non-carbon resources like natural gas and nuclear to a mostly renewable grid, O’Connell said.

A lot also depends on technology development, he added, such as electricity storage systems to provide renewable-generated power when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. Current storage technology can provide perhaps 24 hours of backup power, but for a grid with 80 percent or more renewable generation, much longer-term storage is critical.

“Today’s battery storage systems work well for short periods, say for eight hours or a day,” O’Connell said. “But to get to 100 percent renewables, we need to store excess wind in the spring for use in summer, or excess solar in October for use in January.”

As government initiatives move forward, debate over the quantity and speed of incorporating renewables to replace natural gas and nuclear will move to center stage. Environmental groups want a rapid transition, and some oppose nuclear generation entirely.

But the new state government is working to bring all sectors together, Cottrell Propst said.

“I believe we all share the goal of being bold and setting high standards while maintaining affordability and reliability,” Cottrell Propst said. “Those are conversations we will have.”