As NM’s water situation worsens, SCOTUS battle over the Rio Grande intensifies

Last winter, snows didn’t come to the mountains, and the headwaters of the Rio Grande suffered from drought. In April, the river—New Mexico’s largest—was already drying south of Socorro. And over the summer, reservoir levels plummeted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court battle between Texas, New Mexico and the U.S. government over the waters of the Rio Grande marches onward. At a meeting at the end of August, the special master assigned to the case by the Supreme Court set some new deadlines: The discovery period will close in the summer of 2020 and the case will go to trial no later than that fall.

Proposed law on power plant closings draws critics

A bill aimed at easing economic woes of New Mexico communities hit by the closing of large power plants might make it harder to shut down coal-burning operations, some environmentalists said Friday. House Bill 325, introduced this week by House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, would require the state Public Regulation Commission to consider the economic effects on communities when deciding cases involving the shuttering of large power sources such as the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico. The bill — which is scheduled to be heard Saturday by the House Judiciary Committee — also would require a utility to build any replacement power source in the same community as the facility it plans to close. “My bill is about trying to help my community,” Montoya said Friday. He said that about 45 percent of local tax revenue used by the school district in Kirtland comes from the power plant, while another 8 percent comes from the nearby San Juan coal mine.

New House bill would ease impact of power plant shutdown on county

After a Senate committee last week poured cold water on a bill allowing Public Service Company of New Mexico to sell bonds to pay for the expenses of shutting down a coal-burning plant in San Juan County, a Farmington legislator has introduced a new bill aimed at easing the impact of the plant’s closure on county residents and government institutions. House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, told The New Mexican on Thursday that his legislation, House Bill 325, would require the state Public Regulation Commission to consider the economic effects on communities when deciding cases involving the shutdown of large power sources, such as the San Juan Generating Station. The bill also would require a utility to build any replacement power source in the same community as the facility it is planning to close. Many proponents of the original measure tied to PNM, Senate Bill 47, argued during a lengthy hearing Saturday that it would offer aid to residents of San Juan County who heavily rely on jobs at the power plant and a nearby coal mine that supplies it. “The school district in Kirtland, New Mexico, gets about $37 million a year from the power plant,” Montoya said Thursday.

Senate panel vote dims chances for PNM’ coal-plant measure

A Senate committee dealt a blow to Public Service Company of New Mexico on Saturday by voting to stall a bill allowing the utility to sell bonds to pay for the early closing of a coal-burning power plant in northwestern New Mexico. The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-4 to table Senate Bill 47, known as the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act. The vote followed a more than three-hour hearing, which drew a packed crowd to the Senate chambers. Proponents argued the measure would boost renewable energy in the state while offering aid to residents of San Juan County who heavily rely on jobs at the power plant and a nearby coal mine that supplies it. Opponents, however, painted it as a bailout for PNM and said it would weaken state regulators’ oversight of the utility.

PNM, enviro groups hammer out funding for ‘abandoned’ coal plant

A bill scheduled to come before the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday has some environmental groups and the state’s largest electric utility facing off over financing the retirement of a coal-fired power plant. If passed, the bill would create a bond financing mechanism allowing Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, to recover “stranded” costs associated with its planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington. The bill would allow the utility to form a subsidiary that could issue low-interest “energy redevelopment bonds” and recover more than $300 million. Senate Bill 47 is sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an attorney, and Republican Sen. Steven Neville, a real estate appraiser from Aztec. Its counterpart, House Bill 80, is also a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, and Republican Minority Whip Rod Montoya, a miner from Farmington.

NM’s PRC to decide $150 million coal plant reimbursement

SANTA FE, N.M. – A continuing dispute over rate hikes by Public Service Company of New Mexico is back before the Public Regulation Commission tomorrow. PNM had planned to use a January 1 ratepayer hike to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades at its Four Corners plant until the PRC backed an environmental group’s claim that its financial analysis and risk assessment were flawed. Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the advocacy group New Energy Economy, successfully argued that spending at the generating station would be “imprudent” and consumers should not have to pay investment costs at the coal-fired plant. “You can’t spend that much money and not do a valid financial analysis because ratepayers must be held harmless for the imprudent decisions of utility management,” she says. PNM is asking the commission to adopt an earlier agreement to increase residential customer rates by nearly nine percent over the next two years.

NM regulators take up ambitious clean-energy standard

SANTA FE, N.M. – People who want New Mexico to have its own clean-energy standard are making their case today to the state’s Public Regulation Commission. Supporters say it would help the state determine its role in addressing climate change. The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and consumer advocates have petitioned the commission to consider the standard in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the state by 4 percent a year through 2040. While the Trump administration continues to talk about bringing back coal, said Shannon Hughes, an attorney with the group Climate Guardians, New Mexico is going in the opposite direction. “The reality is that American utilities and consumers are moving on from this dirty, expensive fuel,” she said.

EPA head tells states they don’t have to follow Clean Power Plan

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wasted no time carrying out President Donald Trump’s executive order to administratively review and revoke the Clean Power Plan. On Thursday, Pruitt told state officials, including those in New Mexico, they have “no obligation” to comply with the rule. Related story: Orders from Trump, Zinke reverse nation’s climate and energy policy

In his letter to state officials, Pruitt wrote that the “days of coercive federalism are over.”

That plan would have required states to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed its implementation pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the EPA by utilities, the coal industry and 24 states. New Mexico, through Attorney General Hector Balderas, was one of 25 states, cities and counties to file a motion to intervene in support of keeping the plan.

Industry comes out in force, committee kills energy surtax for early childhood ed funding

On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.

Bill would ask utilities to choose least costly energy alternative

State Sen. Joe Cervantes wants to ensure that electric companies in New Mexico are getting the best prices for their power sources, and he wants the state to use more renewable energy. The Las Cruces Democrat this week introduced a bill that would require publicly owned electric utilities to choose the least-costly alternative when proposing purchases of new energy sources. “This begins with the recognition that the price for renewable energy is falling dramatically,” Cervantes told The New Mexican on Friday. “So the goal behind this legislation would be to try to encourage a competitive market, which is emerging with renewable energy.” Currently, Cervantes said, investor-owned utilities “are relying on their own generation of electricity.”