PNM addresses increased electricity demand from summer heat

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – It takes a lot of electricity to keep New Mexico homes cool, especially when the summer heat won’t quit. 

“I think I used 33% electricity more this year than I did last year,” said Thomas Fallgren, a principal generation advisor at PNM. 

Officials with PNM say the ongoing use of air conditioners and swamp coolers is driving up the demand for electricity. PNM reported an all-time peak of 2,131 megawatts of energy on July 17. They were expecting a similar or higher peak on July 18 but mid-afternoon cloud cover drove down electricity usage. 

“We should be past the majority of the issues for the summer, but we will be vigilant,” Fallgren said. 

Despite record levels of energy usage, PNM leaders believe there is no threat of potential shortages or blackouts. 

“The two peak days that we saw, we actually predicted that the peak would be very close to those numbers, and so we had prepared ahead of time, and we were ready for it,” Fallgren said. 

According to Fallgren, officials analyze weather patterns and electricity demand trends months in advance to prepare for potential electric demand surges. PNM is already planning for the summer of 2024, which could see the same level of power usage. 

Last year, PNM leaders warned about potential summer blackouts due to possible electricity shortages. 

Several renewable energy projects, designed to replace power produced by the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, were delayed because of pandemic supply chain issues.

Fallgren says some of those projects were finished earlier this year. The rest – mostly solar farms and large battery storage facilities – are expected to be completed within the next year. 

“They should all come online by May of next year,” he said. “So that should put us in a good position for 2024.” 

In late-July, PNM activated its ‘Power Saver Program’. That program allows PNM to take control of air conditioners and swamp coolers in participating homes during periods of extreme electricity demand. Fallgren says the program can reduce energy demand by nearly 45 megawatts. 

“We do our efforts to try to minimize that, because we do realize that people are, it’s hot out there, and people want to stay cool,” Fallgren said.

He added the increased snowfall in northern California and the Pacific Northwest helped avoid increased power supplies this year. That increased spring runoff meant nearby hydroelectric dams operated at full capacity.

According to Fallgren, PNM purchased more than 400 megawatts of extra electricity from those facilities to be used in New Mexico. 

“That’s not a great strategy,” he said. “Predominantly, the resources should be located within New Mexico and operated within New Mexico.” 

Some of the renewable energy projects still under construction include solar farms in Bernalillo and San Juan counties.

Once complete, those farms will reportedly increase grid capacity by 1,090 megawatts. Already, the increase in solar panels on rooftops is already reducing electricity demand during the day.