Everybody wants solar energy providing the power when they turn on the lights, but almost no one wants to help their utility recover the costs associated with major PV projects. Is it possible to move forward with solar on a meaningful scale while preventing sticker shock at the utility bill? A new ruling from the New Mexico Public Regulation Committee (NMPRC) says ‘yes.’
In a unanimous vote, the state entity recently approved about half of an ambitious solar plan submitted by the New Mexico utility company known as PNM. The NMPRC gave the green light to the development of 22 MW of company-owned, company-sited solar energy generating facilities for PNM. However, 10 MW of the proposed plan was rejected in favor of an existing distributed solar model which provides incentives for residential and commercial building owners to sell solar energy back to the grid.
Also rejected was a “buy all/sell all” solar performance plan (SPP) pricing model that was intended to replace net metering–and allow PNM to recoup all costs associated with its proposed 45 MW of company-owned solar within three years. Under the new regulations the existing distributed solar program, known as the Solar REC Incentive Program, will also be modified to make purchase more affordable for the utility–thereby helping PNM meet its obligations to acquire solar energy and other forms of renewable energy–but will now also include solar electric thermal systems, as well as PV systems. Those who have already filed for participation in the program will be “grandfathered” in at the previous rates.
“This order provides for a huge increase from today in the amount of utility-owned and customer-owned solar in Central New Mexico, at the same time that it moderates the most costly aspects of what had originally been proposed,” Commissioner Jason Marks (Dist. 1) said, in a statent. “We’re protecting the ratepayers from excessive cost impacts right now and also leaving some money available under our cost caps to implement new programs, as opportunities arise.” New Mexico’s Energy Commisioners believe that this plan, in essence, will ratchet down the premiums paid by new participants over time as program participation increases and PV costs continue to decline.