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PRC hearing officer recommends denying Sky Blue changes

PRC staff and Western Resource Advocates argued that the solar energy from those projects can't be used for both the voluntary Sky Blue program and to meet the renewable-energy portfolio standards. "PNM was asking to cannibalize the renewable-energy standards with their voluntary program."

A Public Regulation Commission hearing officer this week recommended commissioners deny changes requested by Public Service Company of New Mexico for its voluntary Sky Blue renewable-energy program.

More than 16,000 customers spend a little extra for the electricity they use in order to support renewable-energy projects under the Sky Blue program. Customers who agree to be charged for 90 percent of their electricity through Sky Blue pay on average an extra $4.10 per month to participate.

Under PNM's proposed changes, the average premium charged under the program would increase to between $35 and $40 a month.

Currently, all the renewable energy that Sky Blue participants support comes from the New Mexico Wind Energy Center near Fort Sumner, in eastern New Mexico. PNM wants to shift the program to half wind and half solar, with the solar half coming from planned new photovoltaic projects.

Wind energy currently costs Sky Blue customers 1.06 cents per kilowatt hour. The cost of solar energy under the proposed program would be 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

PNM proposes to allow consumers who use as little as 25 kilowatt hours to participate in the program. The... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A Public Regulation Commission hearing officer this week recommended commissioners deny changes requested by Public Service Company of New Mexico for its voluntary Sky Blue renewable-energy program.

More than 16,000 customers spend a little extra for the electricity they use in order to support renewable-energy projects under the Sky Blue program. Customers who agree to be charged for 90 percent of their electricity through Sky Blue pay on average an extra $4.10 per month to participate.

Under PNM's proposed changes, the average premium charged under the program would increase to between $35 and $40 a month.

Currently, all the renewable energy that Sky Blue participants support comes from the New Mexico Wind Energy Center near Fort Sumner, in eastern New Mexico. PNM wants to shift the program to half wind and half solar, with the solar half coming from planned new photovoltaic projects.

Wind energy currently costs Sky Blue customers 1.06 cents per kilowatt hour. The cost of solar energy under the proposed program would be 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

PNM proposes to allow consumers who use as little as 25 kilowatt hours to participate in the program. The current Sky Blue program is only available to customers using 100 kilowatt hours or more.

The sticking point for both PRC staff and Western Resource Advocates, a group that presented testimony in the case, was how PNM plans to provide the Sky Blue renewable energy.

PNM proposed serving Sky Blue customers with some of the energy from new solar photovoltaic systems already approved by the commission.

But those solar projects were approved by the commission to help the company meet state renewable-energy portfolio standards. The rule requires public utilities to produce no less than 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources from 2011 through 2014 and ultimately reach 20 percent by 2020. The PRC also requires the utilities to meet the standard with no less than 20 percent wind and 20 percent solar by this year.

PRC staff and Western Resource Advocates argued that the solar energy from those projects can't be used for both the voluntary Sky Blue program and to meet the renewable-energy portfolio standards. "PNM was asking to cannibalize the renewable-energy standards with their voluntary program," WRA attorney Steven Michel said. "That was particularly unacceptable to us."

Since solar costs so much more to produce than wind energy at the moment, PNM had argued it made sense to sell some of the higher-priced energy through the Sky Blue program to pay for new solar facilities. The company then could use the less expensive wind energy not used in Sky Blue to meet its renewable-portfolio standards and save all PNM customers money.

But PRC staff and WRA argued that would have violated state statute and the PRC's own rules. In particular, they argued, PRC commissioners had approved the company's plan to build 22 megawatts of solar facilities specifically to meet the renewable-portfolio standard.

Hearing examiner Anthony Medeiros agreed with them that PRC rules "expressly prohibit the counting of renewable energy sold to customers under a premium-priced renewable energy tariff toward determining compliance with the renewable portfolio standards."

PRC staff said the utility was already struggling to meet the standard for solar energy. "It is undisputed," Medeiros wrote, "...that PNM will not meet its solar diversity requirement in 2011 and likely 2012."

All the parties agreed that if the commission rejects PNM's changes to the Sky Blue program, it should allow the utility to continue offering the current one. Medeiros found the PNM's proposed changes are "not fair, just and reasonable or in the public interest."


Source: http://www.santafenewmexica...

MAY 15 2011
http://www.windaction.org/posts/30858-prc-hearing-officer-recommends-denying-sky-blue-changes
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