Letter: Solar currently can't replace coal-fired power

New Mexico Reps. Larry Scott
The Daily Times

Environmental groups have been hammering away at Public Service Company of New Mexico's plan to retire two of the coal fired generating plants in the Four Corners area and replace that lost capacity with additional output from the two remaining coal generators along with a combination of nuclear and natural gas fueled power.

While the plan does include some solar generating capacity, the complaint is that it leaves two of the coal units in operation and does not include a suitable percentage of renewable resources.

Here are a few facts. Every single kilowatt of installed solar generation must have in the background another kilowatt of dispatchable capacity installed.

In our neighborhood this capacity is fueled by one of three sources: coal, natural gas, or nuclear power. There is simply no viable storage medium either immediately available or on the near horizon that will change this requirement.

The current state of technology makes renewable kilowatts "in addition to" not "in lieu of" conventional sources of electric power. Solar panels will deliver their rated power on average less than 25 percent of the time with conventional sources providing the balance.

The "buy two get one" economics described in the previous paragraph have already contributed to rate increases of over 30 percent in the last seven years. The mandated retirement of two coal fired generators 30 to 40 years before the end of their projected useful lives will cause significant additional increases in utility rates.

Why? The retirements require considerable capital expenditures to replace the lost capacity, and utility companies must be able to recover their capital costs plus or they will not be long in business.

Ratepayers will bear the burden.

These rate increases fall hardest on those in our communities who can least afford them. Almost one quarter of New Mexico families have incomes falling below the poverty line. Those advocating for clean energy at any cost are obviously not among those struggling to pay their monthly electricity bill.

Power plant design is a complex issue. Factors to consider with a new plant include design capacity, the installed cost per kilowatt, fuel costs, operations and maintenance costs, emissions cost, and finally the costs to retire the facility. The same rigorous analysis must be applied to both conventional and renewable project proposals.

Wake up and smell the coffee, folks.

Because this morning, and every morning, it is brought to you by coal miners, and men and women wearing hard hats and steel-toed boots tending large rotating machines designed to provide power 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and 365 days per year. There may come a time when technology advancement and climate policy concerns drive us to revisit the methods by which utilities generate and deliver power. This should occur only after an honest and vigorous debate and with full knowledge of the benefits, consequences and costs of the proposed changes.