SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — In a move decried by renewable energy advocates, New Mexico regulators have narrowly approved rule changes that allow utilities to use less solar power to satisfy the state’s mandates.
The changes by the Public Regulation Commission on a 3-2 vote Wednesday include giving utilities double credits for each kilowatt hour of solar they procure.
Supporters said the changes will help save money for consumers burdened by utilities’ higher costs for renewable energy, while critics said the decision will hurt the solar industry and restrict diversity of power sources for the grid.
New Mexico utilities use the credits to prove to regulators that they are providing the amount of solar, wind and other types of renewable energy required under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.
The standard requires investor-owned utilities to supply 15 percent of the electricity sold to customers from renewable sources by 2015, and 20 percent by 2020. The renewable energy must be diversified, with 30 percent from wind, 20 percent from solar and 5 percent from other sources like biomass.
Until Wednesday, one credit equaled 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity whether it was from wind, solar or any other type of renewable energy.
Under the new rule, 1 kilowatt-hour of wind energy will still be worth one certificate. But 1 kilowatt-hour of solar energy will be worth two certificates, and 1 kilowatt-hour of other types of renewable energy, such as biomass or geothermal, will be worth three certificates.
By doubling the credits that utilities receive for solar and tripling what they earn for things like geothermal, utilities will need to add much less of those resources to their systems, and they will be held to a lower renewable standard overall, said Chuck Noble, attorney for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy.
Commissioner Patrick Lyons blamed costs for renewable energy sources, especially solar, for increasing the electric bills of New Mexicans, many of whom are low-income. “I support the most economical alternative energy for the consumer,” the commissioner said.
Doug Howe, a former regulator with the PRC, said it appears the changes will essentially “cut the solar industry in New Mexico in half.”