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PNM modeling shows solar power good, economic choice

asolarCopyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Public Service Company of New Mexico says forecasting models indicate a mix of nuclear, natural gas and solar power would be the most cost-efficient and reliable way to replace coal-fired electricity while meeting demand growth over the next 20 years.

The company analyzed thousands of scenarios that considered projected changes in fuel prices, environmental regulations and growth in electric consumption to develop an “integrated resource plan” for the future.

PNM must file such a plan every three years with the state Public Regulation Commission to identify the most-effective resource portfolio to meet regulatory requirements and energy needs over two decades.

The latest triennial planning process, which launched in July, included the need to replace 340 megawatts of electricity at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, where PNM proposes to shut down half of the plant’s capacity by 2018 to meet federal haze regulations.

“The best replacement portfolio now looks like a mixture of some nuclear power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, solar energy and natural gas capacity,” said PNM Planning and Resources Director Pat O’Connell.

The company was already considering additional energy from Palo Verde, where it now derives about 270 MW of electricity for New Mexico consumers, plus construction of a new gas-fired power plant at San Juan. But the advisability of adding solar-generated energy to the mix was a novel outcome in the modeling process. Research showed that additional PV is a good economic choice, given declining prices for solar photovoltaic plants, plus use of solar tracking systems to boost electric output, O’Connell said.

“That was the news for us,” O’Connell told the Journal. “It’s actually cheaper than other options.”

PNM Vice President for Regulatory Affairs Gerard Ortiz said the company used advanced software for comparative modeling of thousands of potential power-supply mixes. The best one for meeting projected needs through 2033 would be an extra 134 MW of nuclear energy, 177 MW of natural gas, and 40 MW of solar, he said.

“I’m very comfortable with the modeling we’ve done, but the results are still preliminary,” Ortiz said. “Things could change as we continue the process.”

PNM presented its initial results in public meetings this month in Albuquerque. It will periodically hold more public events, including one in Santa Fe in October, as it refines its modeling and projections. The process will culminate in a filing at the PRC next June.