Public Service Co. of New Mexico may be the first U.S. utility to lay out a concrete road map to reach 100% carbon-free generation by 2040.
The company’s latest Integrated Resource Plan, which it filed Friday with the Public Regulation Commission, outlines the potential paths it’s considering to fully replace all carbon-emitting sources with renewables, emerging storage technologies, and possibly hydrogen generation over the next two decades.
The state’s Energy Transition Act requires PNM to convert its grid to 50% renewables by 2030, 80% by 2040, and 100% carbon-free by 2045. But PNM plans to reach that carbon-free end-goal five years early, by 2040.
The new IRP describes potential paths to achieve that, said PNM Vice President for Generation Tom Fallgren.
“PNM was one of the first utilities in the nation to set a goal of carbon-free by 2040,” Fallgren said. “This IRP establishes a plan for how we can do it. We believe we’re the first utility of our size – and maybe the first in general – to put forward an actionable plan to become carbon-free in 20 years.”
The utility files an IRP with the PRC every three years to determine the most cost-effective, reliable and environmentally friendly mix of energy resources for the grid looking out two decades, with an immediate, four-year plan of action to begin moving forward.
It began working on its latest IRP in summer 2019, after the new energy law took effect, holding 11 public meetings to help develop it.
PNM’s 2017 IRP called for replacing all coal with renewables and natural gas, plus continued reliance on power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.
In contrast, the new IRP relies almost entirely on renewables and back-up battery storage. Nuclear would continue, although slightly less than before, and new energy-saving systems would be added to the grid.
Perhaps most important, all natural gas would be phased out through 2040, with possible conversion of some existing facilities to hydrogen-based generation.
The plan includes two potential scenarios for pubic discussion. One is “technology neutral” to allow for hydrogen generation. The other entirely eliminates combustion resources.
The hydrogen-inclusive plan would cost about $200 million less over 20 years compared with the other scenario, which promotes nearly all renewables and storage systems, said Nicholas Phillips, director of integrated resource planning. It also adds an extra layer of reliability to the grid.
But many environmentalists and clean energy advocates prefer just renewables and storage.
“The political winds now are suggesting no new combustion,” Phillips said.
Both scenarios allow for 100% carbon-free generation by 2040, said PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval. By presenting two potential paths, PNM is leaving the door open for public discussion.