Sep. 23—As the prospect of California-style rolling blackouts face New Mexicans in the summers to come, state regulators asked the three largest electric utility companies how each is planning to avoid such incidents over the next two years.
The state Public Regulation Commission met with executives from Public Service Company of New Mexico, El Paso Electric and Southwestern Public Service Co. in a special meeting Thursday.
The electric providers shared their plans to provide more electricity and curb demand during peak periods of summer 2023 and 2024 due to potential supply shortages.
Commissioner Theresa Becenti-Aguilar said the close calls during this year's recent peak demand season made it clear the commission needed to refocus.
"You are planning to build energy storage or energy-related projects, and we learned about it a year ago in 2021," Becenti-Aguilar said. "We should have already started workshops a year ago, but today is a good time to hear about the challenges utility companies are facing."
Providers described delays in energy development projects they attributed to a global supply chain breakdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as well as labor shortages that could affect electricity supply in the face of growing demand.
According to current plans, PNM will face a decline of about 250 megawatts for 2023 after shutting down the San Juan Generating Station and delays in new electricity projects. Two electricity sources the company was planning to bring onto the grid in San Juan County next year will instead be pushed to 2024 at the earliest, said Tom Fallgren, PNM vice president of generation.
PNM will lose 114 megawatts of electricity it receives from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona in 2023. The commission already approved two solar battery projects and one standalone battery project to replace it, but none of the replacement sources will be online next year, Fallgren said. PNM pulled out of two of the three new projects after the developers requested time extensions and price increases.
The Atrisco Solar Farm in Albuquerque is moving forward, Fallgren said, but it won't be generating power for the PNM grid until summer 2024.
"There was a lot of uncertainty about the 2022 peak season, and so a lot of entities who have had excess capacity have kind of waited out the 2022 season to see where it went," Fallgren said.
He said PNM will seek contracts to buy electricity from other sources in October and November.
Commissioner Stephen Fischmann asked about the possibility of PNM implementing special rates for customers who voluntarily limit their use during peak periods.
"I would much rather see people have an opportunity to voluntarily curtail than to have a rolling blackout, for instance," Fischmann said.
The company's meter system is not set up to monitor an individual customer's use with that kind of regularity, PNM executives said. They also pointed to examples in California, saying such a program would be unlikely to encourage customers to curtail their use.
PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval said the utility has a plan to broadcast with social media posts, television commercials, radio ads and robocalls in the event it proceeds with "rotating power outages" next year.
The company's website, he said, would include an outage map that would show customers the locations and durations of planned power outages.
"Let's keep our priorities straight," Fischmann told the utility providers. "The lights going out is the worse case."