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New Mexico regulators move ahead with clean energy proposal

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ALBUQUQUERQUE (AP) — A New Mexico regulatory panel on Wednesday narrowly cleared the way for more discussion on a proposed clean energy standard that supporters say would protect utility customers and shareholders from the costs and risks associated with future environmental regulations.

The Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 to host workshops in Santa Fe next week despite the concerns of two commissioners.

Commissioner Patrick Lyons argued that the meetings should be held in northwestern New Mexico, where electric utilities are looking to retire their coal assets. He said the resulting loss of jobs and tax revenue should be part of the discussion.

"It's time to start looking at the economic impact," Lyons said, echoing concerns voiced by some Democratic and Republican state lawmakers.

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office and consumer advocates are petitioning the commission to consider the proposed standard, which calls for utilities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that serve customers in the state by 4 percent a year through 2040. Supporters say that could amount to a reduction of several million tons of carbon dioxide, considered a prime contributor to global warming.

Investor-owned utilities are already headed in that direction. The state's largest electric provider, Public Service Co. of New Mexico, is preparing to shutter part of its coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico by the end of the year and it has invested almost $270 million in 15 solar generation facilities.

The utility plans to add more solar to its portfolio under a plan submitted to regulators earlier this year and expects to be out of the coal business by 2031.

Along the eastern side of the state, Xcel Energy has plans for two large wind farms that will serve customers in New Mexico and West Texas. Company officials expect wind to meet more than 40 percent of customers' annual electricity needs by 2021.

El Paso Electric, which serves customers in the southern part of New Mexico, buys electricity from several solar farms in the region.

Steve Michel, the energy policy chief with the environmental group Western Resources Advocates, said Wednesday he doesn't believe the standard would be a burden for New Mexico utilities given their current plans. However, he acknowledged that it will be a challenge to educate people about the proposed rule.

Lyons and fellow Commissioner Valerie Espinoza also raised concerns about whether the commission has the authority to adopt such a standard.

Commission Chair Cynthia Hall said the workshops will afford the public an opportunity to weigh in.
It is possible more workshops could be held before the commission decides whether to consider the proposal.