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NM's Public Regulation Commission Rushes to Approve Solar Project

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Despite its abundance of sunshine, New Mexico is not among the top 10 states for the number of solar megawatts installed, houses powered or jobs generated. (nmsolar.org)
Despite its abundance of sunshine, New Mexico is not among the top 10 states for the number of solar megawatts installed, houses powered or jobs generated. (nmsolar.org)
October 29, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A hearing for a proposed community solar project near Las Cruces is scheduled for next month, even after El Paso Electric attempted to withdraw its proposal.

New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission has put the hearing on its calendar, despite opponents' successfully arguing that the original proposal showed favoritism to the utility company over independent solar contractors. Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the group New Energy Economy, said when utilities are given an automatic advantage by the PRC, customers don't get the lowest price for solar energy.

"The law is, you're supposed to get the most cost-effective among feasible alternatives,” Nanasi explained. “Well, one of the other alternatives is to allow independent power producers to compete against the utility - and when they do, they're often much cheaper."

At a recent meeting, PRC Chairman Sandy Jones said he believed El Paso Electric's project was so important that no consideration should be given to proposals from independent solar companies. A 30-day application turnaround isn't typically considered feasible, but the hearing is scheduled for November 27.

Nanasi said she believes it's being rushed because three of the five commission members will not sit on the board by the end of the calendar year.

The solar farm would be similar to one that El Paso Electric operates in southwest Texas. It allows low-income and other customers to have their power supplemented by the solar farm, even if they can't afford or don't want home installation.

Nanasi said she thinks these types of projects should be embraced by the state, and that the PRC isn't acting in the public's best interest when it shows favoritism to a major utility. She pointed to studies showing that most solar generated through contracts with independent power producers is less costly than solar provided by utilities.

"When you are sitting as a commissioner, your whole job is to regulate on behalf of the public,” she said. “And yet, they want to approve it without even a hearing - the hearing has not even happened yet."

El Paso Electric's 20-year resource plan says solar projects from independent solar providers can be contracted at $21 per megawatt hour - one-third of what the utility itself is currently charging.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM