The question has been a matter of growing debate between renewable-energy advocates and the state's three main utility companies, including PNM.
Utilities have argued that allowing third parties, such as a solar-energy company, to install a system, hook into the power grid and collect money from one of the utility's customers would infringe on the utility company's franchise rights. Power companies like PNM, which provides electricity to Santa Fe and other parts of north-central New Mexico, contend state law prohibits other energy providers from poaching on their service territories.
The New Mexico Public Regulation commission decided during a public meeting to have a hearing examiner accept legal briefs on the question, PRC commissioner Jason Marks said.
The commission will review the briefs before making a ruling.
Marks said the issue arose two years ago, after the PRC required utilities by 2011 to diversify their sources for meeting the state's renewable energy standard. State law requires utilities such as PNM to provide a portion of electricity from renewable sources. Marks said utilities had relied largely on large-scale wind farms to meet the standard.
Now the PRC requires utilities to have a certain percentage of renewable energy also come from utility-scale solar installations and from "distributed sources." Distributed sources can include utility customers who install rooftop solar panels or put wind generators in yards.
The city of Santa Fe is looking at installing a solar photovoltaic system to produce some of its own power and offset its monthly energy bill from PNM. That system would be owned by another company.