Keeping the lights on in New Mexico

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The threat of potential power shortages in New Mexico is not going away.

“This is not just a year or two situation. We’re gonna have to ride this out,” said Joseph Maestas, vice-chair of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

State regulators met with executives from PNM, El Paso Electric, and Southwest Public Service Company Thursday to discuss concerns about power supplies after the San Juan Generating Station shuts down.

“It’s going to be closing at the end of September, and so there’ll be no more coal power from the San Juan Generating Station,” Maestas said.

PNM reps estimate the closure will leave a 450 MW deficit in New Mexico’s power grid. Officials were able to extend operations at the San Juan station to cover increased energy needs during this past summer, but Maestas confirmed there are no plans to extend operations once again.

PNM reps said new energy facilities aimed at replacing the power lost by the San Juan station have been delayed by pandemic-spurred supply chain disruptions.

“The president said the pandemic was over, but the effects from the pandemic are far from being over,” said Carter Cherry, PNM’s director of supply chain.

Cherry told regulators several key pieces of equipment have been delayed – some up to 72 weeks. Those delays are pushing several renewable energy projects further off schedule.

“We’re still anticipating 2 of those projects coming online to meet the summer 2023 peak,” said VP of generation Tom Fallgren. “But 2 projects located in San Juan County will not achieve an install by 2023.”

PNM officials told regulators they have already secured alternatives for at least 200 MW of power, but there is still an estimated 250 MW shortage expected during summer of 2023. There’s also concerns about power supplies in 2024.

Officials said they are mainly focused on summer shortages because that’s when the demand for electricity is the highest. There are no concerns about power shortages for the rest of 2022.

PNM reps said some power could be purchased from nearby producers – including El Paso Electric Company – however, reps for that company also expressed their own issues with the supply chain.

State regulators have their eye on a different solution though – one that’s already proven effective in California.

“They sent out a note to ratepayers saying ‘Please, voluntarily curtail your energy use’ and they averted a blackout,” said Meastas.

It’s looking more likely New Mexicans could be asked to do the same next summer.

“The first thing is not to put customers in that situation, but we realize we have to be prudent and we have to plan for all sorts of contingencies,” said Ray Sandoval, director of communications at PNM.

Sandoval told regulators PNM is building a mass communication plan form the ground up. He says it includes TV, radio and social media ads – as well as robo calls and text messaging to ratepayers. Regulators also asked about potentially using Amber Alert technology to notify residents to conserve power.

“This has to be a break the glass situation, cause what happens is if we go out and scare the public and it doesn’t happen, the next time that we try to do this is going to be very, very difficult to get them to actually get motivated,” Sandoval said.

PNM reps said they are doing everything they can to keep the lights on, and they’re optimistic after successfully avoiding blackouts in 2022.

PNM shared the following statement with KOB 4:

“Our ultimate responsibility to customers is to keep the lights on, while simultaneously raising concerns about supply chain problems leading to energy shortages.

We will continue to work to resolve the expected 2023 summer shortages as we have been doing for well over a year.  And we are encouraged by the fact that we were able to resolve shortfalls this past summer during record heat.

There are many different paths that can be taken to secure additional energy resources. We will also work with customers to help them reduce their energy usage, while continuing to explore all potential opportunities to find a combination of solutions that result in the least impact to customers. 

We appreciate the growing awareness of these challenges, not only in New Mexico, but in the U.S. and globally. We applaud  the willingness of the NM Public Regulation Commission and stakeholders to work through administrative and legal hurdles that may further complicate solving these issues.”

Maestas said the situation is sparking new questions about the transition to renewable energy.

“It’s gonna take maybe some deep thinking about this transition to carbon-free energy, and what it’s done to firm power, and how it’s affected utilities ability to meet their peak power requirements,” he said.