ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A big new plan from PNM outlines some major possible upgrades to the grid providing electrical service to many New Mexicans, including changes that could offer more data about how customers are using electricity. The utility is also forecasting that the change may cost customers an average $1.20 more per month, if approved and enacted.

A regulated monopoly electrical provider, PNM unveiled what it calls its “grid modernization” plan in a news conference Monday morning. The six-year, $344 million plan would apply to PNM’s entire service area, stretching across more than a half-million residential and business customers in the state, including three of New Mexico’s four largest cities: Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe.

“If approved, this modernization of PNM’s grid will improve reliability, enhance cyber security and empower our customers to have decision making capabilities and cost saving capabilities at your fingertips,” PNM Communications Director Ray Sandoval said of the plan Monday. “For less than a cost of a small cup of coffee per month, PNM customers can take control of their energy usage and their bill while helping us with this energy transition.”

The proposal targets what PNM calls its “distribution system,” meaning the substations, poles and wires and customer meters at homes and businesses. A major piece of that investment is what PNM calls “advanced meter infrastructure,” accounting for roughly half of the total $344 million cost.

Under that “advanced meter infrastructure” are “smart meters”. Those are new meters that would have ot be installed across PNM’s service coverage area, which regularly record energy use, sending usage data back to a utility headquarters through wireless radio signals. PNM is promising to share those “real time updates” on customers’ daily power usage with customers, allowing them to regularly see how much power they’re using.

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“Using a customer portal, you’ll be able to check your energy use anytime from a cell phone, a tablet, or a computer,” PNM’s Chief Policy and Legal Advisor Laura Sanchez says in a newly released promotional video about PNM’s grid plan. “The customer portal can even let you know which home appliance, like an air conditioner or heater, is using the most power. You’ll be able to adjust your energy usage based on that information and manage your bill before it arrives.”

If the plan is approved, PNM says it will begin installing smart meters in low income and underserved communities first. While New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission still has yet to hold a first hearing on the plan, PNM is hoping to begin collecting funds for the new initiative by fall 2023.

One of the other investments PNM is seeking in its grid modernization plan would target upgrades to the larger distribution infrastructure. Another roughly 1/3rd of the remaining cost would pay for what PNM calls “outage restoration technology.”

“Right now, if we have an outage on the system, we’re relying on our customers to call it in and let us know that there’s an outage somewhere,” Sanchez said during Monday’s news conference. “And that takes time for us to send out a crew and have them identify where on our line there’s a problem.”

Outage restoration technology, PNM says, will help the utility identify and isolate where an outage exists on the grid. “We’ll be able to better prevent outages, reduce outage duration and get power back on more quickly when outages happen,” Sanchez said.

Under the modernization plan, other upgrades PNM is seeking to make target rooftop solar projects that are becoming more popular across New Mexico. A February 2021 KRQE News 13 investigation looked at the troubles PNM is facing in adding home solar systems into the larger grid. The utility said Monday it has “repeatedly heard” from from customers and stakeholders about requests for to add rooftop solar with energy storage, plug-in electric vehicles and community solar to the grid.

“As you add a lot more renewables and storage and other devices, other types of generation on to the system you get variability in voltage,” Sanchez said “So some of the devices that we’re talking about, the technology we’re bringing on to the system will help manage that variation in the voltage.”

The remain cost of the upgrades would be directed at cyber security, PNM says. A PNM spokesman, Ray Sandoval said Monday the upgrade is not contingent on PNM’s continued effort at a merger with Avengrid. The proposal, which was just submitted Monday, will now go to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for consideration.

The next steps include for the PRC to consider the filing. Then, the PRC would have to schedule a hearing on the proposal. According to Sandoval, the grid modernization plan is in part a response to the 2020 New Mexico legislative directive known as the “Energy Transition Act.”