Green Light for New Mexico Utility Solar Project

State regulators gave New Mexico’s electric utility PNM approval to build a solar generating facility in 2005, and study the feasibility of building a power plant that could use forest thinnings to produce electricity.

The state Public Regulation Commission (PRC) approved a plan for PNM to build a 25 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) generating facility in 2005. Capable of producing enough electricity to meet the needs of 20 average-sized New Mexico homes, the plant would be the largest grid-tied PV power facility in the state, according to PNM. A location for the plant has not been chosen. State regulators also approved a PNM plan to study the feasibility of building a biomass generation plant in New Mexico. The facility would use organic material like forest thinnings to produce power. The plans, expected to cost $1.4 million, are the result of an agreement between PNM, PRC staff, the attorney general’s office and the Coalition for Clean, Affordable Energy (CCAE). As part of the agreement, PNM will also work with Gov. Bill Richardson’s Distributed Renewable Energy Task Force and others to develop a customer-owned solar program to begin in 2006. PNM will finalize the details of that program next year. Hugh Smith, PNM senior vice president for Energy Resources, said PNM officials are excited at the prospect of adding biomass to the company’s generating portfolio and increasing the company’s investment in solar energy. A PNM parking lot in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights already uses a small array of photovoltaic panels to produce electricity and provide shade for employees’ cars. “Biomass and solar resources can produce energy in a way that respects the environment and preserves New Mexico’s quality of life,” Smith said. “These projects support PNM’s environmental sustainability policy and will add diversity to our existing fuel mix.” PNM currently relies on coal, nuclear energy, natural gas and wind to produce electricity for customers. Smith said fuel for a biomass plant, likely wood and plant material, could be gathered in an environmentally sensitive manner that could reduce fire danger, potentially reduce demands on water aquifers, and provide economic benefits to rural communities. PNM’s study, to be completed in 2005, will identify long-term fuel sources, possible location sites, transmission availability, and permit requirements. PNM also plans to issue a request for proposals to see if a third party can provide biomass energy at a price lower than a PNM-owned biomass plant.

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