Southwestern Public Service gets New Mexico staff support on 70-MW solar contracts

Staff members of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission filed July 10 testimony on an April 2 application from Southwestern Public Service for approval of two long-term power contracts with two NextEra Energy Resources solar projects of 70 MW apiece.

Andrea B. Delling, an Economist in the Accounting Bureau of the NMPRC’s Utility Division, offered an outline of separate long term purchased power agreements (LTPPAs) with two subsidiaries of NextEra Energy Resources for the purchase of: 70 MW of solar power from Roswell Solar LLC; and 70 MW of solar power from Chaves County Solar LLC.

SPS entered into separate LTPPAs with Roswell Solar and Chaves County Solar for the average approximate purchase of 190,650 megawatt hours (MWh) per year of solar energy from each facility. The LTPPAs cover a contract term of 25 years, commencing on the commercial operating date (COD) for each solar facility, which is projected to be no later than Dec. 31, 2016. 

Asked if SPS will incur interconnection or transmission costs under the LTPPAs, Delling wrote: “SPS will not incur interconnection costs (which include electric losses, transmission and ancillary service arrangements and other costs) under the LTPPAs. The interconnection costs are the responsibility of NextEra from the point of generation from the Roswell and Chaves County solar facilities to the SPS point of delivery (115 kV bus at the SPS’s Chaves County Substation).”

Delling said that SPS provided reasonable cost and resource justification for the deviation from its Integrated Resource Plan to include the LTPPAs. SPS sought proposals for build-own transfers (also known as “turn-key projects”) whereby the bidder designs and constructs the facility, and the facility is turned over to the utility upon the COD, SPS chose this option because of the company’s lack of internal experience in constructing solar facilities and the approach is consistent is with parent Xcel Energy‘s (NYSE: XEL) past practice. SPS only received one ownership proposal that provided a buy option in the seventh year that would be based upon the fair market value of the facility at that time. SPS did not consider that option to be economically feasible in the near term as compared to the bids received in the 2014 solar request for proposals (RFP).

These are 25-year contracts for this solar power

Bruno E. Carrara, the Bureau Chief for the Electrical Engineering Bureau of the Utility Division at the commission, wrote in companion July 10 testimony: “There are two LTPPAs, both between SPS and limited liability entities created by NextEra Energy Resources (‘NextEra’). Both LTPPAs are for energy produced by solar facilities to be constructed on a 618 acre site approximately 5 miles east of Roswell, New Mexico, and on a 550 acre site slightly south of the Roswell facility site, also in Chaves County, New Mexico. The size of each facility is 70 MW, for a total of 140 MW. The NextEra entities have the responsibility to construct the facilities and to obtain all necessary permits and approvals. I will use the terms ‘Roswell LTPPA’ when referring to the LTPPA associated with the Roswell solar agreement and ‘Chaves LTPPA’ when referring to the LTPPA associated with the Chaves County solar agreement. The LTPPAs will utilize single-tracking photovoltaic solar panels, and as such will produce electricity only during daylight hours.”

Carrara added: “The two LTPPA are nearly identical. The LTPPAs are for a term of 25 years of commercial operation. The expected commercial operation date for both locations is December 2016. The annual committed solar energy output of each facility starts at 202,820 MWh in the first year of commercial operation, and slowly declines over the 25-year term to 178,481 MWh in the 25th year. … Approximately one-third of the facilities’ annual output is expected to occur during the months of May, June, and July. The price for the Roswell LTPPA for the energy acquired is $34.78 per MWh versus the price for Chaves LTPPA at $35.37 per MWh in year 1. SPS has stated that they do not know why NextEra offered slightly different prices. The prices for both LTPPAs escalate at 2% per year.”

The proposed Roswell and Chaves County LTPPAs reflect the lowest solar energy prices seen so far, Carrara added. “The Roswell and Chaves County LTPPAs are less than half the cost of SPS’s own SunEdison PPAs. It is quite remarkable how much the cost has declined in five short years – so much so that one has to seriously consider whether some short term mechanism other than long-term, escalating, purchase power agreements might be available to arbitrage against future capital cost reductions that may or may not materialize. Short-term options, however, present their own challenges, especially if one believes that favorable tax treatment will disappear after 2017.”

Carrara said that commission staff recommends that the commission:

  • Approve the LTPPAs but not the shared savings mechanism proposed by SPS. Staff does not recommend approving the LTPPAs if any shared savings mechanism is included.
  • SPS should not be authorized to exercise any ownership option in the LTPPAs or in the facilities and that SPS must first seek and receive commission approval through a future certificate of convenience and necessity or similar proceeding.
  • SPS should be required every five years (after commercial operation) to file a report in this docket with the commission, supported by evidence and testimony, that provides information of whether or not the LTPPAs have provided a net displaced energy cost savings in the preceding period.
  • Staff recommends that SPS be required to submit a report in this docket once the SPP has made a determination regarding transmission service. SPS should be required to explain SPP’s determination, detail the capital cost, annual revenue requirement and cost per kWh to SPS of all options available to it, and justify, through supporting evidence and testimony, SPS’s preferred solution.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.