PRC warns private utilities to cease and desist efforts to obstruct Community Solar implementation



Last week New Energy Economy joined the Coalition for Community Solar Access (“CCSA”) and Renewable Energy Industries Association of New Mexico (“REIA”) in opposing the illegal exclusion of transmission costs from bill credits proposed for Community Solar subscribers by Southwestern Public Service Company (“SPS”). PNM and El Paso Electric (EPE) too filed proposals that would limit the potential benefits of Community Solar for their customers.

In his brief comments at the PRC meeting included in the above video, Commissioner Maestas warned utilities that "Community Solar is here, and Community Solar is here to stay...Rather than continuing to obstruct or delay Community Solar and the intent of the legislature, to the detriment of our low-income communities, I would like to once again ask the utilities to get it together and get on board."

In flagrant disregard of both the law and Commission rules, SPS proposed a Bill Credit for Community Solar subscribers that does not subtract any costs of transmissions from customer bills despite the fact that the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) directly prohibited inclusion of transmission costs in Community Solar rates because “community solar projects bring generation within the distribution level of the grid.”

Yesterday, in a scathing rebuke of all three investor owned utilities the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) ordered:

A. Suspension of SPS's advice notice and Rejection of SPS's proposed Community Solar Bill Credit. The company must file a legally compliant version by October 14th.

B. Suspension of PNM's and El Paso Electric's advice notice for further review, and

C. Utility cooperation with the Commission’s advisors and program administrator to develop Customer Agreement forms that are uniform to the extent practicable.

After first obstructing throughout the Community Solar legislative and rule-making processes, then appealing the PRC’s Community Solar rules at the NM Supreme Court, and then filing a Motion for Stay in the Supreme Court to prevent implementation of the Community Solar rules, this is just their latest ploy. Their legal wrangling is intended for one purpose and one purpose only: to further delay Community Solar because it represents a threat to the monopoly control over energy production that these private Investor Owned Utilities are clinging to with a vise-like grip.

The Community Solar administrator intends to release the Community Solar request for proposals (“RFP”) by early December 2022. However, the ability for developers to respond to that RFP will be limited by uncertainty regarding the utilities’ community solar implementation filings, particularly in regard to the bill credits and contractual terms. This filing by SPS was designed specifically to create that uncertainty and hamper businesses from entering into the vast renewable energy market that is available to New Mexico.

PRC staff also raised concerns about PNM's plan to unilaterally limit the type of customers that could participate in Community Solar and El Paso Electric inserting administrative fees that would halve the potential financial benefits for Community Solar Subscribers.

The PRC has put the utilities on notice that they intend to ensure that Community Solar is implemented on schedule and in the best interests of consumers.

In its Motion for Stay of Community Solar rules at the Supreme Court SPS wrote: “SPS does not bring this motion to delay the community solar program. Xcel Energy, Inc., SPS’s parent company, has successfully implemented community solar programs in its Colorado and Minnesota service territories, and it stands ready to do the same in New Mexico.” But in fact, in Minnesota Xcel was fined $1M by utility regulators when it was found that the company was stalling the interconnection of community solar projects (at least 128 complaints filed against Xcel, accusing the utility of systemic failure), and a solar industry trade group’s Executive Director was quoted saying there has been “industry­ wide exasperation” with Xcel on connecting to the grid. Regulators had to step in against Xcel obstruction in Colorado as well.

As one editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican recently put it: “the only thing standing in the way of a rapid and necessary shift to renewable energy is the desire of these private companies to continue their control of our state’s energy and receive their 10 percent interest from ratepayers for the privilege.”

We fought for nearly a decade to pass Community Solar legislation, and in 2021 that effort was finally rewarded at the legislature. Now, after its passage, there are more than 7800 applications for solar interconnection in the pipeline - more than 500MW of clean energy waiting in the wings! These applications come from solar developers who have already asked to be connected to the grid in order to provide locally produced solar to communities.

The anti-competitive and anti-consumer actions of private utilities in New Mexico follow a pattern and practice of behavior by Wall St. investor-owned utilities: Community Solar represents a crack in their monopoly control over our energy and PNM, SPS, and EPE are afraid of the competition. All independent solar and wind businesses need to thrive is opportunity, and New Mexico’s sun and wind can do the rest to provide abundant energy at low cost guaranteed! Who wouldn’t want that? The investor-owned utilities don't, because it means less profit for their Wall St. shareholders. It’s time to bring local control and 100% renewable energy at lower cost.

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