House votes to roll back 2020 renewable energy standard

solar panels
Solar panels

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – A measure reducing the amount of renewable energy sources utilities would have to tap to provide electricity for their customers by 2020 has narrowly passed the New Mexico House.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, cleared the chamber on a 33-32 vote late Thursday. It now heads to the Senate as the Legislature enters the final stretch of its 60-day session.

From New Mexico to New York, utilities are facing higher renewable-energy standards this year as numerous states and the federal government push for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity.

New Mexico’s standard increased from 10 to 15 percent at the start of the year. It’s required to hit 20 percent in 2020.

The legislation calls for eliminating the higher requirement.

“The House of Representatives just voted to take a step backwards and put the brakes on continued economic development in the renewable energy sector,” said Victor Reyes, the legislative director for Conservation Voters New Mexico.

Reyes called the 20 percent requirement reasonable, saying it will spur job creation while holding utilities accountable.

Nearly 30 states, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories have adopted renewable-energy portfolio standards during the past decade, while several others have established goals. New York’s new requirement remains one of the highest in the nation at 29 percent, according to a federal database that tracks state incentives for renewable energy and efficiency.

Energy experts say most states are on track to meet their standards.

But Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, has argued that renewable energy standards drive up electricity prices. He contends that New Mexico’s adoption of the renewable energy standard in 2007 – along with regulations spelling out how much wind and solar could be a part of an investor-owned utility’s portfolio – led to a spike in electricity prices.

Steven Michel, chief counsel for Western Resources Advocates’ energy program, has said New Mexico’s program is working and that utilities are finding in many instances that renewable resources are becoming more economical.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico, which serves more than 500,000 customers, said it is meeting the 2015 requirement thanks to several new solar arrays, renewable energy certificates from wind and solar generation, and the power it’s buying from the new Red Mesa wind farm.

PNM’s portfolio includes more than 300 megawatts of wind-generated power and nearly 70 megawatts of solar.

Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to customers in eastern New Mexico and parts of Texas, announced this week it will purchase 140 megawatts of electricity from two planned solar farms near Roswell. “The price of solar has come down considerably to where it’s actually competitive with some of our other generating sources. It’s been a game-changer for us,” Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves said.

Legislative analysts say New Mexico isn’t the only state to consider rolling back its standards. A report by the Center for the New Energy Economy found seven states enacted nine bills in 2014 to either roll back existing policies or modify the requirements.

If Scott’s bill were to pass the Senate and be signed by the governor, the state Public Regulation Commission would have to amend its rules for governing renewable energy for electric utilities.

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