Don’t Let Big Utilities Dominate Solar

Regina Wheeler, Contributor
Sunpower by Positive Energy Solar CEO
12/11/2017 10:01 am ET

Santa Fe leaders should ensure that clean energy resources are owned by the people — not investor-obsessed utility monopolies.

Santa Fe has long been on the cutting edge of green innovation. Under Mayor Javier Gonzales, the city has pioneered programs like the Verde Fund to fight climate change and poverty as well as a tiered water-pricing system to spur cost-effective conservation.

But, this month, the city is on the verge of taking a backward step.

The City Council is poised to vote on a resolution that sets the stage for construction of a new 3.5-megawatt photovoltaic project to be built, owned, and operated by the investor-owned utility monopoly, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).

While we need a quick transition to clean energy, this decision would, in fact, hurt the cause. By creating a precedent of letting monopoly players dominate public solar projects, the plan would undermine New Mexico’s diverse and competitive clean energy sector—potentially putting small clean energy firms out of business.

 

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New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission in Retrograde

In the airless fourth floor hearing room where the body charged with regulating public utilities operating in New Mexico meets to conduct its public business, special rules apply: the Sun revolves around the Earth, which is flat by the way, and utility companies being in the electricity generation business is a really good idea.

In recent weeks, the state’s largest utility, Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM), was before the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission (PRC) seeking approval of its its Renewable Energy Act Plan for 2018. At special issue was the utility’s proposal for a turnkey contract with an Albuquerque-based solar provider, a company already in the constellation of solar providers in PNM’s renewable energy universe.

In the proposed deal, Affordable Solar would build out five 10 megawatt generating facilities for completion in 2019, and transfer ownership back to PNM. Under current law, owning the facilities outright, as opposed to purchasing output from independent providers, guarantees PNM a 10% profit on the value of the solar farms, including the value of the land they’re built on, which it can include in its rate base calculation. Growing the asset base upon which rates are determined is a surefire way that investor-based for-profit utilities like PNM, whose shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, can grow future profits and remain attractive in the capital markets.

Opponents to the deal, who notably include the PRC staff and Hearing Examiner, say that PNM ran roughshod over the procurement process, effectively shutting out independent power producers in order to achieve a predetermined result, and that if the deal is allowed to go forward ratepayers will be disadvantaged to the benefit of PNM’s shareholders.

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NEE files Motion to Reconsider for Renewable Portfolio Standard given PRC's violation of the law

As you know New Energy Economy prevailed before PRC Hearing Examiner Carolyn Glick against PNM when PNM sought to own 50 MW solar (built by Affordable Solar).  She found PNM’s procurement process was rigged and called it anti-competitive and unfair. PNM wants to own ALL the solar because that way it makes money on the electricity it sells us and a nearly 10% return on the solar assets AND the land the solar sits on. This can’t be the least cost alternative as PNM claims.

After the Commission led by Sandy Jones ruled (3-2, Espinoza and Lyons in the minority) to overturn Carolyn Glick’s recommendation regarding PNM-owned solar New Energy Economy filed a Motion to Reconsider. We argued that the PRC majority ignored and distorted substantial evidence in the record. Evidence which led the Hearing Examiner to reject PNM-owned solar due to its unreasonably high solar procurement costs to PNM’s customers.

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Commission Makes Illegal RPS Case Ruling

PRC Gives PNM Keys to the Kingdom
Rubberstamps PNM’s Renewable Case
ruling against the Hearing Examiner’s Recommended Decision and against the public interest and NM legal standards

PNM prevailed before the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for its request for 50 MW Solar Project from Affordable Solar, Inc., (“Affordable Solar”) for $44.63/MWh, an extension of its wind contract of $27.25 per MWh from 2028 to 2045 and geothermal at the Lightning Dock facility (aka Dale Burgett Geothermal Facility), for $89/MWh but with escalation to $160.98/MWh and commitment until 2042. Commissioners Jones, Lovejoy and Hall voted in favor of the ruling and Commissioner Lyons and Espinoza voted against it.

SEE THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN ARTICLE HERE

 

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Open energy market better plan for all New Mexicans

By Brad Winter And Isaac Benton / Albuquerque City Councilors
Monday, November 13th, 2017 at 12:02am
Electricity is easy to take for granted. 

As we use electricity every day to power our phones and appliances, we probably don’t often think about the physical facilities that generate the power from various sources, much less about how they are paid for and built.

Now’s a good time to start paying closer attention, especially to plans being made by Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).

As it prepares to retire its old coal power plants, PNM plans to get more power from new solar facilities. This is an important and positive local economic opportunity, with more to come in the years ahead.

When it comes to ownership and control of these solar facilities, it’s important to make sure we don’t blindly build them in a way that makes that energy more expensive than it should be – the old-fashioned way.

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