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NM delegation pushes for Facebook data center

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After receiving a single public comment, state regulators have decided to hold a hearing next week on a solar energy plan for a possible Facebook data center – despite a request to expedite the matter so New Mexico would be more competitive with Utah in landing the huge deal.

Facebook is considering building a data center in Los Lunas, and the Village Council already has approved a $30 billion industrial revenue bond measure for the project.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation sent a letter to the PRC last week, expressing support for the project.

“A Facebook data center in New Mexico has the potential to provide over $500 million in capital investment for construction and over $20 million in annual operation expenditures in local wages and compensation over the lifetime of the facility,” the lawmakers wrote.

Public Service Company of New Mexico had asked state regulators to approve a mechanism for providing energy to the center, which would include, among other things, construction of a solar facility.

The utility had asked the PRC to waive the hearing, but the agency said it would do so only if no public comments were registered by July 27. One comment was submitted on that day by an Albuquerque homeowner inquiring about how the project would affect residential solar producers.

PRC Chairwoman Valerie Espinoza said she felt the hearing was an important step in fulfilling the agency’s obligations to the public.

The hearing will be held on Tuesday.

New Mexico is in the running with Utah to be the site of the data center. Utah’s public service commission is expected to complete its review by Aug. 31.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

The congressional delegation letter, dated July 22, was signed by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, and Reps. Steve Pearce, Republican, and Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, both Democrats. It was addressed to Espinoza.

“Los Lunas is an excellent site for a Facebook data center with convenient interstate access and infrastructure already in place,” the letter said. “The state has been a leader in clean energy development, making New Mexico an ideal fit for the data center, which is planned to be powered with one hundred percent renewable energy.”

Espinoza said she often receives letters of support from lawmakers or constituents, but this is the first time she’s seen one from congressional lawmakers.

“I recognize that they wrote in strong support of the project,” she said. “But this is an open case. We have to do what is in the best interest of the public, whatever that may be.”

PNM is specifically looking for the PRC to approve a special service contract for Facebook’s electric needs. The utility is also seeking a special service rate that would set Facebook’s renewable energy at a fixed rate for 10 years, a power purchase agreement authorizing PNM to buy solar electricity from PNM’s affiliate company, and a “green energy rider” that would allow PNM to procure renewable energy for a single customer.

PNM has said none of the utility’s 530,000 customers would absorb costs from the project, which would be entirely funded by Facebook.

In June, the Los Lunas Village Council approved the industrial revenue bonds for the center, although Facebook’s identity was not disclosed to the council at the time.

In their support of the project, the delegation wrote: “We believe New Mexico requires strong leaders to create new opportunities that will fulfill the promises of economic recovery. We encourage you to act – as permitted by the Commission’s rules and regulations – to do what is appropriate to help secure new investments in the state’s future and to support Los Lunas’ bid to bring Facebook to New Mexico,” the lawmakers wrote.

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