Study will address rate structures for solar customers in the future

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FARMINGTON — With solar power becoming more and more common, the city of Aztec’s electric utility must decide how to react to an increase in customer generation.

Aztec is in the process of completing a cost-of-service study on that subject. Because the study has not been completed, electric utility Director Ken George has requested a moratorium on customer generation agreements.

If the City Commission approves the moratorium, George said customers interested in installing solar arrays can still prepare their plans. But he said they should avoid purchasing solar panels until the moratorium is lifted.

People who install solar arrays can go off the grid and rely on batteries or backup generators for the times of day when the solar panels are not producing power. The other option, which will be discussed Tuesday, is for residents to use the electrical grid as a backup to their solar array. That approach is known as grid-tie and requires an agreement with the electric utility company.

Aztec City Manager Joshua Ray encouraged anyone who is interested in commenting on customer generation agreements or curbside recycling to attend the meeting Tuesday evening at Aztec City Hall. He said it is important for commissioners to hear from the public about these issues.

"That's how we're successful at making good decisions," he said.

Ray said if people want to comment but cannot make the meeting, they can contact him through email at jray@aztecnm.gov or phone at 505-334-7606.

George stressed that the city of Aztec is not anti solar. He cited the city’s one megawatt solar farm, which allows all Aztec customers to enjoy renewable energy. George said solar generation has the benefit of providing locally produced power.

However, George said the city must have one megawatt of spending reserves for days like today . George said the day started out sunny, and the solar array was producing energy that was shipped to customers. But over the course of the day, clouds moved in, and the solar array was no longer able to produce as much power. That is when the spending reserves kicked in.

“We may be little Aztec, but we’re tied to the national grid,” George said.

The same principle applies to residential solar. On cloudy days or when the solar array is being repaired, the city’s utility sends the amount of electricity needed to power the home or business.

Another challenge comes from the way a utility is designed. On a traditional utility system, the power is sent from a substation through electric wires to the homes or businesses. That system is designed to have power flow a single direction.

But when solar power is added into the mix, the utility must make changes to allow the power to flow two ways. When a lot of solar energy is produced, it flows from the customer back into the system. George said the city will have to consider who pays to make those changes to the design.

Another expense that is caused by customer generation is the amount of time it takes to process the bills for customers.

“I need to make it fair for everybody,” George said.

Another issue the cost-of-service study will address is an increase in how much Aztec pays the city of Farmington for Farmington’s utility to transport electricity. Farmington has proposed increasing that amount by about 16 percent. Aztec will have to consider that new expense while determining future rates.

“Every expense has to be passed on to the customer,” Ray said.

The City Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Aztec City Hall, 201 W. Chaco St. The meeting will follow a workshop about curbside recycling that starts at 5 p.m.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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