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AG joins coalition in opposition to PNM solar fee

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has joined a coalition of environmental and clean-energy groups calling on the state Public Regulation Commission to dismiss Public Service Company of New Mexico’s proposal to charge a new grid “access fee” on customers who install solar photovoltaic systems.

Balderas’s office is also asking the PRC to study the costs and benefits to the grid from customer-owned PV systems in the state.

PNM wants PRC approval of a $6-per-kilowatt monthly charge on customers with PV systems as part of its new rate case, which it filed at the commission last fall to raise rates in general by about 12 percent. The utility says the solar fee – which could range from a low of $21 per month for customers with small PV systems to $36 or more for those who install larger ones – would help pay for the costs incurred to maintain the grid and provide electricity to those customers when the sun isn’t shining.

But environmentalists and clean-energy advocates say PNM has exaggerated the costs and ignored the benefits of PV systems, while providing no evidence of the need for an access fee.

On Wednesday, the AG joined a coalition of six organizations asking the PRC to dismiss PNM’s proposal. The AG also filed a separate petition asking the PRC to either conduct its own study or to require PNM and utilities to themselves investigate the impacts on the grid from “distributed generation,” or DG – electricity from small-scale generating systems, such as residential rooftop solar systems.

“Because DG’s actual impact on the utility system in New Mexico is not known, there is simply not enough information for the commission, utilities or interested parties to make informed decisions with regard to this subject in any pending or future case,” said the AG in the petition.

The national Alliance for Solar Choice, an industry organization established to fight similar utility cases elsewhere, has led the joint motion to dismiss PNM’s solar-fee proposal. Apart from the AG, that petition also has support from the PRC’s utility division staff, said TASC spokeswoman Sarah Wolfe.

“It makes complete sense for the AG to support this, because it’s a matter of looking out for the interests of consumers,” Wolfe said.

PNM spokesman Pahl Shipley said the utility supports the petition to investigate the costs and benefits of distributed generation, but it stands behind its request for a solar-access fee.

“This is an important decision, and we look forward to participating in the process if the PRC decides to move forward,” Shipley told the Journal . “But PNM strongly believes it has presented a strong case for the DG interconnection fee.”

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