Buddy, can you spare five grand?

December 23, 2018

So after a recent stock crash, I spent the day looking for some advice on how to lose less in the market. And lo! I found a Standard and Poor’s Global article whose source was PNM Resources. Hmm. Says here that investors should know that Public Service Company of New Mexico wishes to spend $2.5 billion in the next four years on new generation, mostly renewable, maybe some natural gas, and a large number of various and sundry updates. So that’s about $5,000 for each PNM meter. To put that in perspective, it’s six times more than the entire PNM ownership cost for all of its investments in San Juan in the 1970s. Six.

But that’s not what caught my eye. While that amount is inflated for what PNM needs to spend to be primarily carbon free as a utility, the rate hike will be offset by a very large fuel reduction.

What caught my eye was the heading “Growth Opportunities.” This was a hype for investors stating that PNM was looking at $950 million “for new customer load” along with related investments.

Now, that kind of investment has no economies that go with it. That spending is pure hike, and at 10.5 percent as PNM would wish, it’s more than $100 million per year more for the company and nothing more for you.

It’s this $950 million that quantifies what I’ve been calling on elected officials to recognize for years. Growth costs money for other residents in the electric utility world.

What we need is what a few other places, cities and the state of California have done, and that is require all new buildings to have solar panels. Now, this requirement would have the unlikely outcome of saving the new building owners or homeowners money. Putting solar in during construction is cheaper than afterward. And after recently doing a review of a large power user in Santa Fe whose bills are 13 cents per kilowatt hour on $4,000 per month in bills, I’m very certain that savings are significant.

But the point is, when all new buildings have their own solar panels, they will meet their own peak power needs. The peak comes in summer afternoons, and that’s when the solar panels work at peak capacity.

A state legislative requirement or a city ordinance or a county initiative are things I’ve sought for years. No luck. But, until now, no utility had put the cost of growth on paper. Now you have it. If you think reducing carbon is a good idea, let an elected official know. If you’d like to save a few thousand dollars and have the electric demand of New Mexico spread across the grid and absorbed by those who add to the load, then tell a legislator we need mandatory solar. We only need about one watt per square foot of building, or about $2.50 per square foot. With buildings costing $250 per square foot, that’s not a real issue when you consider power savings, let alone improved air quality and carbon reduction.

So, instead of hoping your Public Regulation Commission takes care of you in a rate case, take care of yourself this time. Have the folks who build eliminate the growth impact, and have some rules in place for that to happen.

Shane Woolbright lives in Santa Fe and spent more than 30 years in the electric utility industry.

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