On November 20, in swift action intended to circumvent public input, Commissioner Patrick Lyons and two other Commissioners of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) voted to permanently cut the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 10%. The Renewable Portfolio Standard is the law in New Mexico that requires that utilities use some renewable energy sources. This reduction of the RPS was done at the behest of New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers (NMIEC), an industry organization representing some large electricity users including Intel, UNM and the City of Albuquerque. Commissioners Hall and Bicente-Aguilar voted with Commissioner Lyons to reduce the RPS. Commissioners Espinoza and Montoya voted against lowering the RPS.
This latest ruling by the PRC singles out solar electric systems including those on homes and businesses. Lyons’s action immediately eliminates the requirement to install ANY additional solar electric systems in New Mexico through the year 2020. Until this ruling, solar energy was the most promising technology to diversify our state’s energy portfolio. With New Mexico’s abundant sun and the 30% federal income tax credit available through 2016, solar generation costs utilities less than new natural gas power plants. Wind is also an excellent generation source in some parts of New Mexico and is not affected by the PRC decision.
This catastrophic piece of rulemaking was aided by El Paso Electric and Xcel Energy’s claims that they couldn’t meet the RPS without increasing costs to ratepayers more than the 3% limit. Yet PNM, the largest utility in our state, has a plan to meet the original RPS and stay within the 3% limit. NMIEC, the organization behind Lyons’s action, is now pressuring PNM to drop all plans for future solar projects! Keep in mind that fossil fuel costs included in electricity rates have been increasing throughout the US and in New Mexico by more than 6% per year over the last 10 years. Oil and gas will become more difficult and costly to access; will use extensive water resources; will pollute our air and water; and are likely to require costly cleanup as the effects of gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing or fracking become widespread.
Our economy depends on improvements in energy productivity to be competitive in global markets. Why then are we continuing to put all of our eggs in the fossil fuel energy basket? Fossil fuel costs will continue to go up, making the cost of food, housing and transportation higher and higher and squeezing the lower and middle classes. The cost of solar modules has dropped an average of 9% per year since 1979 (see graph). This productivity improvement leads to lower costs and more stable energy prices in the long term. Commissioner Lyons’s actions have bound us to more fossil fuels and rate increases that will hurt our economy and our environment.