PNM wants to expand solar capacity

NEW MEXICO - New Mexico's largest utility wants to nearly triple the amount of electricity that it generates through solar photovoltaic technology, but some in the renewable energy industry are concerned about the plan.

Public Service Company of New Mexico announced it is seeking bids on the design and installation of various sizes of solar PV systems as part of a proposal submitted to the state Public Regulation Commission.

The proposal has yet to be approved, but PNM wants to have 4 megawatts of new capacity installed via systems that would be sited on property owned by participating customers. PNM would pay those customers lease payments in return for hosting the system.

The utility currently has about 1.4 megawatts of solar PV capacity, almost all owned by individual customers.

"This program would provide a unique opportunity for customers who want to actively support the growth of the solar PV industry in our state," PNM President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn said in a statement.

PNM officials also said the program would complement existing programs in which PNM buys excess renewable energy generated by customer-owned systems and credits customers at least 13 cents per kilowatt hour for power generated by their systems.

Odes Armijo-Caster, president of the Renewable Energy Industry Association of New Mexico, said his organization has been studying the proposal for weeks and is concerned that PNM is making a play for the limited amount of renewable energy credits that are available to those who generate power with PV systems.

"Whether it's good for my business or any other solar business because they get to do installs, that's one thing. But for the consumer, it's way, way bad," Armijo-Caster said.

Under PNM's proposal, he said customers could have solar PV systems on their rooftops but not benefit from selling back any power to the utility or getting renewable energy credits because PNM would own the system.

"They still get to charge you. You're still a customer," Armijo-Caster said. "They want to make sure you have to pay a PNM electric bill every month. Forget being energy independent."

PNM has drawn criticism in recent weeks from the association, state officials and Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez over its plans to scale back the incentive programs for customers who have installed solar PV systems on their rooftops.

The limits on renewable energy credits and the number of customers who can participate are spelled out in the renewable energy portfolio procurement plan the utility filed last month with the PRC.

PNM has defended the plan, saying it will help the utility meet the state's renewable energy requirements without going over a cap state lawmakers set on the surcharge the utility could charge customers for the higher costs associated with renewable energy generation.

Briefings are planned on PNM's procurement proposal later this month. The PRC is expected to make a decision this fall.


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