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PRC pushes PNM toward wind energy

SANTA FE Wind roars through the state nearly every day, and government regulators voted Thursday to press Public Service Company of New Mexico to use it to provide more electricity.

The state Public Regulation Commission rejected the major part of the company’s 2011 renewable energy plan in a 5-0 vote.

The next step is a commission order that would require the company to buy more wind power, then use it to supply electricity for customers.

New Mexico law requires that electric companies produce 10 percent of their power through renewable energy sources. Beyond that, the Public Regulation Commission has specified that at least 2 percent of overall electricity production be from wind and at least another 2 percent from the sun.

Public Service Company has been using an artificial means to comply with state requirements for wind power. It has not met the requirement for more expensive solar power.

With Thursday’s decision, the company will need to increase the amount of wind energy generated in the state.

To hit its state targets for wind power, the company has bought paper certificates showing that this alternative form of energy was produced in the last four years. Other companies across the country use the same system to comply with alternative energy requirements set by governments.

But this approach circumvents the intent of the law to diversify energy sources, said Commissioner Jason Marks.

“Paper compliance does not achieve the goal of generating more renewable energy,” he said.

Cathy Garber, a spokeswoman for Public Service Company, said she expected a change in which the company would spend $5 million or $6 million annually to purchase wind power from a New Mexico plant. Public Service Company has spent a comparable amount to buy the paper certificates showing that wind-borne electricity was produced in the state during the last four years, Garber said.

Marks said the revamped system, in which new wind power actually is produced, would be a bit more expensive for the company than buying the paper certificates.

Public Service Company is the state’s biggest electricity supplier with about 500,000 customers.

Marks had criticized the company for resisting the state-mandated targets on solar energy production.

A Democrat, Marks said the company had fought solar programs through litigation, despite New Mexico’s abundant sunshine.

But Republican Commissioner Patrick Lyons said companies should be able to choose the cheapest form of renewable energy to meet the state’s requirements. Wind is the least expensive renewable energy, so companies should not be forced to provide solar power too, he said.

Ratepayers will see higher bills if electric companies have to offer more expensive solar power, Lyons said.

Marks said the cost of solar had dropped and would continue to decline as companies make it available and improve the technology. He said the state needs “a balanced portfolio” in energy, and that solar is the most reliable renewable energy source in New Mexico.

El Paso Electric, which has a smaller market share in New Mexico than Public Service Company, also has bought paper certificates to comply with state law on wind production.

But the commission accepted its renewable energy plan in December, before Lyons took office.

Marks, a veteran commissioner, admitted that “a double standard” was being used with regard to the two energy companies.

He said El Paso Electric had produced more solar power than Public Service Company. Because El Paso Electric is a smaller provider, it should not be held to as rigorous a standard on every aspect of alternative energy production as Public Service Company, Marks said.