In recent weeks several articles and letters have appeared in the Albuquerque Journal regarding the current Public Service of New Mexico rate case. Reports from several Public Regulatory Commission meetings and hearings are also accessible.
We recommend approaching this issue from a practical point of view where technology, economics, policy, reliability, law and logic prevail over impractical, Pollyanna views of renewable energy.
One of us started the Electric Power Program at the University of New Mexico, another has been active in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Energy Policy Committee and all of us hold advanced technical degrees and have taught university energy classes.
We all cherish low electric bills and our pristine New Mexico environment.
PNM has already committed to the shutting down of two of its coal-fired generation units at San Juan by the end of 2017. Some of this lost generation capacity is to be replaced by solar fields – five already on line. Both rapid response and capacity loss will be provided by cleaner natural gas-fired generation plants – this was part of the “deal.”
To maintain the delicate balance required for an electric utility system: (1) reasonable electric rates (we actually pay just a bit less than neighboring states) and (2) reliable electricity delivery, PNM must have the financial support requested in their rate increase proposal.
In the absence of expensive energy storage, renewable energy (solar and wind) can only play a limited role (5 percent to 15 percent) in overall systems capacity!
The capability to substitute clean energy must be available for those occasions when it isn’t, and that means either: (1) additional generating units, (2) pre-purchased energy or (3) buying on the spot market, which as California discovered, can be very expensive.
In effect, this means that clean energy basically only substitutes for the cost of fuel, because the same generating capacity must still be available. This means no savings on capital costs.
The wisest choice is nuclear power with reprocessing of spent fuel rods to extract the unburned fuel and extend the lifetime of nuclear reactors as a clean energy source.
Looking to the future, the PRC should task PNM to explore agreements enabling increased access to clean electric energy supplied by Palo Verde generation while this might still be an option.
The addition of rooftop solar panels, the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles, tighter regulations on coal plant emissions and increasing requirements for renewable energy adoption are all increasing the costs of nonrenewable electric power generation and distribution. Clean air is expensive and cannot be obtained “on the cheap” as the Public Regulatory Commission seems to believe.
Lastly, the Public Regulatory Commission must address its ethics dilemma.
First, the PRC should never support a potentially biased hearing judge such as Carolyn Glick. To avoid any questions of ethics, Glick should have recused herself from this case because Sierra Club goals might influence her thinking. She should be honor-bound to never place this sort of stress on the PRC process!
When the time comes that we in New Mexico are cold and dark, or hot and perspiring, we must not blame PNM but rather should credit the PRC and their support personnel, especially Carolyn Glick.