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          Front Page




State Looks To Boost Solar

By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
          New Mexico regulators are considering a proposal that would expand rooftop solar energy programs at the state's largest utility.
        The program, under which Public Service Company of New Mexico would pay a premium to buy electricity from rooftop arrays, is part of the state Public Regulation Commission's efforts to expand production of renewable energy in the state.
        The program's backers say it will create an incentive to expand nonpolluting energy production. By putting the power systems in the middle of the city — "distributed generation" — it will also reduce the need for new transmission lines, backers say.
        "We're investing in the future," said PRC member Jason Marks.
        Currently, PNM buys solar power from small arrays on homeowners' roofs. The new proposal would expand the program to include larger arrays on the roofs of businesses and government buildings. By guaranteeing above-market prices for solar electricity, the requirement is intended to create incentives for a shift away from natural gas and coal, which are not renewable and have been linked to climate change.
        Solar advocates say New Mexico lags other states in expanding rooftop solar incentives. They say that regulatory steps are needed to jump start the solar business.
        "The more we do, the cheaper it's going to get," said Tom Singer of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
        Under the PRC proposal, the company would be required to pay businesses 15 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. PNM currently pays 13 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from home systems. That would not change.
        For comparison, homeowners typically pay 9 cents per kilowatt hour.
        A PNM spokeswoman declined comment Monday. But in a document filed late Monday afternoon with the PRC, the company complained that the 15-cent rate is too high. PNM has proposed a 13 cent rate, to match the amount it pays for electricity from homeowners' solar arrays.
        The PRC will discuss the proposal today in Santa Fe, and action is expected by the end of this month.