Solar delays in New Mexico jeopardizing coal plant retirement

solar delays san juan coal plant

Solar delays in New Mexico due to a global supply bottleneck after the pandemic are jeopardizing the retirement of a coal plant in the state. The Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) had plans to retire its aging San Juan coal plant by June 2022.

According to Reuters, the issue is not a simple one. The utility is raising concerns about keeping the electricity flowing during peak demand in the summer. In fact, the PNM warned state officials this week about a new delay in one of the largest planned projects. Earlier in the year more solar projects were delayed.

Consequently, the utility considers that the San Juan Generating Station might need to keep operating beyond its due date.

Firstly, the San Juan plant has a total capacity of 847 megawatts. It’s the state’s second-largest polluter and CO2 emitter indeed. Consequently, the PNM pledged to retire it by 2022. It would be part of the state’s strategy to source only carbon-free electricity by 2040. The state also has the mandate to phase out fossil fuels in power generation by 2045.

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Solar delays put PNM in a situation regarding electricity supply

However, on Wednesday, the PNM said that the 200MW San Juan solar project wouldn’t come online until April 2023. The company cited supply constraints stemming from the pandemic. Developers of the project are Photosol US Renewable Energy and Clearway Energy.

Moreover, two other solar projects in the region, with a combined capacity of 400 MW, are also held up. Also, in April, 8minute Solar Energy told PNM its planned 100-megawatt Rockmont project could not meet the June 2022 timeline promised in its contract. In addition, the 300 MW Arroyo Solar facility would also have delays and would be fully operational until the end of 2022.

The solar delays mean that the PNM will be operating with a 5% reserve margin during the peak summer demand season. The reserve margin is the difference between total generation available and forecast peak demand. Furthermore, PM said on Wednesday that, ideally, it should be operating with an 18% margin.

Consequently, the San Juan coal plant might need to operate longer than scheduled. As if not, it would put a hazard on the electricity supply to the state. In fact, when asked by the state’s Public Regulation Commission in July about the possibility of extending the life of the San Juan coal plant, PNM said it would not rule out any options.

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