SANTA FE – New Mexico’s largest electricity company faces a showdown this week with state regulators over how little renewable energy it produces.
Jason Marks, a member of the state Public Regulation Commission, on Tuesday said Public Service Company of New Mexico had failed to meet government requirements for solar energy development.
Worse still, the giant with 500,000 customers had come up short while two electric companies with smaller market shares were complying with the state’s rules for renewable energy, he said.
“How can these guys not do it affordably when the other two companies are?” Marks asked.
Marks, a Democrat, wants an order in which the commission would press Public Service Company of New Mexico to take specific steps to generate more electricity through wind and solar power.
The five-member Public Regulation Commission has scheduled a vote on Marks’ proposal for Thursday. In an interview, he predicted that he had the necessary three votes to get his measure approved.
But Marks also can expect opposition from Republican Commissioner Patrick Lyons.
Lyons said government should not meddle in corporate operations.
Cathy Garber, a spokeswoman for Public Service Company, declined comment. She said the company preferred to wait until Thursday before reacting to any order by the Public Regulation Commission.
The state has mandated that 10 percent of electricity be produced through renewable
energy sources. Solar must account for 2 percent of that total.
Marks said Public Service Company’s desire to litigate the requirements and its resistance to even small matters – such as implementing rooftop solar programs – had stalled progress on alternative energy.
“It’s been much more tortured with Public Service Company” than with other electric companies, he said.
He said he wants the commission to tell Public Service Company to seek business proposals that would increase its solar development and create a wind farm.
This strategy, Marks said, amounts to the state providing “guidance” to the company.
But Patrick Lyons, a Republican who chairs the commission, said he would oppose additional state requirements for solar production by private companies.
Lyons said alternative energy sources must be increased, but the state would be out of bounds to tell a private company where to invest its money.
“Wind is so much cheaper than solar,” Lyons said. “We should be looking for the type of renewable energy that is the least costly.”
Companies with consumers and shareholders to account to cannot be expected to invest in solar technology when it is almost three times more expensive than wind energy, Lyons said.
Marks, though, said the cost of solar had dropped by half since the state began its push for renewable energy in 2007.
“Sunshine is plentiful in New Mexico and solar is going to get cheaper,” Marks said. “Solar is a big part of the picture” in replacing fossil fuels that cannot last forever.
In addition to Public Service Company of New Mexico, two other businesses are subject to the state requirements on renewable energy. They are El Paso Electric Co. and Southwestern Public Service Co., a subsidiary of Xcel Energy.
All three were to have renewable energy programs in place by Jan. 1. Marks said El Paso Electric and Southwestern had substantially complied, leaving the commission to deal with Public Service Company of New Mexico.
Marks said he would not rule out fining the company for failure to follow the law, but he hoped the approach of steering it to a more aggressive alternative energy program would work.
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