Bill to ease plant closing impact heads to House floor

In a case of strange political bedfellows, a conservative lawmaker from San Juan County and the leader of a Santa Fe environmental group not known for compromising came together Tuesday to back a bill aimed at easing the economic woes of New Mexico communities hit by the closing of large coal-burning power plants. The House of Representives voted 44-25 to pass Rep. Rod Montoya’s House Bill 325, designed to help a large school district keep most of its tax base if Public Service Company of New Mexico closes the San Juan Generating Station by 2022. To become a reality, the measure would also have to clear the Senate before the Legislature adjourns at noon Thursday. “Are you going to refer to me as an environmentalist activist,” Montoya joked with a reporter Tuesday. Endorsing the bill was Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based non-profit that has fought many PNM rate increases and other proposals before the state Public Regulation Commission.

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.

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 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.

Uncertainty surrounds fire department funding

Many New Mexicans are fully aware that, with the summer, fire season is just around the corner. But James Canyon Fire Chief Bill Hanson goes further. “Fire season is here,” Hanson said. What is approaching, Hanson said, is the end of the fiscal year. And his volunteer fire department, located just east of Alamogordo, still doesn’t know how much money they’ll receive or when the money will arrive.

Legislature acts on broadband internet access bills

New Mexico lawmakers are delivering on a promise to improve one of the state’s last-in-the-country rankings — the speed of broadband internet. Several bills are moving through the Legislature, and two have cleared the Senate and House of Representatives and are heading to Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Each would make it easier to expand broadband internet to underserved rural areas where the sparse population makes it difficult for companies to recoup their costs. House Bill 60 would allow private companies installing fiber optics to share a trench unearthed by the state or a local government. The change reclassifies broadband as an economic development project and exempts it from a constitutional provision that prohibits taxpayer support to private companies.

What’s next for Uber and Lyft

Legislation that provides an outline for regulations of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft is awaiting action by Gov. Susana Martinez—but there is still a possible lengthy process before the rules are in place. After rules imposed last year by the Public Regulation Commission in the absence of legislation, Lyft halted operations in the state and Uber has been operating, some say, illegally. A pending New Mexico Supreme Court case and possible signature by the governor adds some ambiguity to the future of Uber in New Mexico and whether Lyft will resume operations in the state. If signed into law, companies like Uber and Lyft would be regulated separately from taxi companies by the PRC. Martinez’s signature needed

The entire process depends on Martinez signing the legislation, which seems promising given her reaction after the session to the legislation on ride-hailing (which she calls ride-sharing) companies.

Odds and Ends: Cutting services, senior citizens dancing

Just a few things that we noticed at the session that didn’t quite make it into a full story. —At the end of the Senate floor session on, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, spoke about priorities for this year’s legislative session. He says that if they did all of them “there would be no new money available for anything else” for several years if they were all passed. “I know that tapping the permanent fund in some way lessens the amount available in the future,” he says. He says Richardson cut the income tax “drastically” “and lost hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue” and that they cut corporate taxes under Martinez.

Proposal to take politics out of redistricting moves forward

A stripped down proposal that seeks to take partisanship and politics out of the redistricting process, as much as possible, passed its first test. The proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Carl Trujillo cleared the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a unanimous vote on Wednesday. The committee heard the bill for a second time, but in a very different form. Last week, members of the committee felt that the language was too detailed for the constitution. They instead preferred that specifics be left for “enabling legislation” that is in statute and not in the constitution.

Study: Fossil fuel groups targeting solar industry

A study by an environmental group says fossil fuel industry interests are aiming at taking down the growing solar energy industry. The local branch of the group says New Mexico has been resistant to these attempts. Environment America released a study on Tuesday looking at the way these groups attempt to head off solar industry. The study placed blame at the feet of organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a controversial conservative group that allows close ties between corporate interests and legislators. While New Mexico is not specifically mentioned in the report, outside of a reference in the footnotes, Environment New Mexico sees this as a local issue.