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PRC’s wind demands a lot of costly hot air

Perhaps state utility regulators have decided that tilting at this windmill wasn’t a productive use of its time.

The Public Regulation Commission appeared to be thumbing its nose at the law and overstepping its authority by directing the state’s largest producer of electricity to buy wind power to meet its renewable energy requirements. The commission recently ordered Public Service Company of New Mexico to spend up to $6 million annually to buy wind power to meet its 2011 requirement that 10 percent of its energy come from renewable sources.

By law, utilities can satisfy renewable energy directives by producing or buying the power directly or by purchasing renewable energy certificates from another company that has exceeded state requirements with previous generation. PNM proposed to spend $5 million to $6 million to buy certificates to help meet its 2011 requirement.

However, the commission said it wanted actual wind power, not more paper certificates. While the PRC acknowledged PNM’s plan meets state law, Chairman Jason Marks said the question becomes whether an elected commission, trying to diversify the state’s energy supply, has the discretion to order a utility to revise its business practices.

One certainly would hope not. If Marks wants to do that, he should start his own utility or perhaps consider moving to a country where government calls all the shots.

PNM challenged the directive and asked the commission to reconsider the order, which it has wisely decided to do. But unless the PRC changes its mind, the New Mexico Supreme Court could end up answering the question Marks poses.

A company spokeswoman says PNM had proposed to buy the certificates from other companies at low cost – $4 to $10 a certificate – for wind energy generated a few years ago and banked for future use, permitted by law for up to four years. In the wake of the commission’s order, PNM found it couldn’t come up with enough real-time wind energy to meet goals this year and the price of certificates had risen into the $60 range.

The PRC should forgo an unnecessary fight that could cost PNM customers more for electricity down the road and dump a costly legal tab on taxpayers.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.