PNM asks PRC to reopen power line case

May 23, 2019

New Mexico’s largest utility on Tuesday petitioned the Public Regulation Commission to reopen the case involving who will pay for a proposed 45-mile transmission line that would supply wind energy to the Facebook data center under construction in Los Lunas.

The commission last month denied Public Service Company of New Mexico’s request to charge its ratepayers nearly $40 million to help finance the line between Clines Corners and Sandoval County, finding Facebook should shoulder the full cost.

However, PNM filed documents with the commission Tuesday that say a new development allows the commission to reopen the formal record in the case — a proposed new 140-megawatt wind farm 18 miles east of Estancia that would also be served by the power line.

An affidavit by Thomas Fallgren, PNM’s vice president for generation, says the proposed La Joya Wind Facility, Phase 2, owned by Oregon-based Avangrid Renewables, would serve all retail customers and allow the company to meet its goals for renewable-energy sources in 2021.

Avangrid also owns the 166-megawatt La Joya wind farm near Encino, the original planned user of the transmission line.

Fallgren said in his affidavit that the second La Joya wind farm would be expected to go online by the end of 2020. Last week, PNM announced that it had finalized a contract to buy energy from the new project.

PNM is asking the commission to schedule an expedited hearing on or before June 6 to consider the new evidence.

PNM has admitted that during the hearings in the case early this year, one of its experts, Jeff Mechenbier, director of its Transmission/Distribution Planning and Contracts Department, “may have been confusing and may have left the misimpression” that all of the power carried by the transmission line would be dedicated exclusively to Facebook’s Los Lunas facility. That testimony was a major reason a hearing officer recommended the commission deny PNM’s request to make retail customers pay about half of the cost.

An affidavit from PNM’s vice president of New Mexico operations, Todd Fridley, filed with the PRC on Monday, says Mechenbier, on the day after his original testimony, at one point tried to clarify that the power line “will be a PNM transmission system resource that will serve all PNM retail and wholesale customers.”

The commission last week unanimously denied a request that it rehear arguments over its rejection of PNM’s proposal. But commissioners at the meeting said the PRC would consider reopening the case if new facts emerged.

The commission’s vote to make Facebook absorb the costs of the line prompted the social media giant to raise concerns in a letter to the PRC.

The PRC vote was criticized last week by a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who said, “This has the potential to have a real chilling effect as we attempt to bring more businesses to New Mexico.”

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