Dysfunction at the PRC puts New Mexico’s clean energy plan at risk

Dysfunction and a lack of expertise within the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) threaten to undermine the state’s ambitious plan to flip the switch from coal to reenewable power. 

The Energy Transition Act — the centerpiece of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda to rein in greenhouse gas emissions — phases out coal, turbocharges solar and wind development, and provides funding to retrain displaced coal plant and mine workers. It has been hailed as one of the strongest climate measures in the country. 

But six months after Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law, its success appears jeopardized by the very regulatory body charged with overseeing its implementation. 

The powerful commission must vet every aspect of the plan: the closure of the San Juan Generating Station coal plant; the complex financing to pay for decommissioning and worker assistance; and every new energy project that will provide the replacement power. But when the first proposals came before the PRC in July, the commission chose to ignore the new law, leaving the state’s energy transition in limbo. The unusual move has sparked a political furor, pitting the PRC against the governor and Legislature and leading to calls for impeachment of three of the commissioners as well as a proposal by the governor to convert the PRC from an elected body to an appointed one. 

The law’s supporters say the commission’s handling of the plan reflects deep dysfunction that could slow the state’s renewables ramp-up and jeopardize aid for displaced workers. Lujan Grisham says she finds the PRC’s actions “baffling” and suspects that long-standing tensions between the commission and Public Service Co.

Energy bill seeks to aid switch from coal to renewables

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and several environmentalist groups on Thursday praised legislation aimed at ensuring the shuttering of the coal-burning San Juan Generating Station near Farmington and establishing ambitious targets for pushing New Mexico toward more reliance on renewable energy sources. The bill is intended to soften the financial hit both to the community surrounding the aging power plant and to Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s largest utility and majority owner of the plant, which is a major source of employment in Northwestern New Mexico. State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, on Thursday introduced the 83-page Energy Transition Act, which proposes to allow PNM to recover investments through selling bonds that would be paid off with a new “energy transition” charge for customers. It also seeks to provide funds to assist and re-train workers who lose jobs from the shutdown and sets a 2030 deadline for investor-owned utilities and rural electric co-ops in the state to derive 50 percent of their power from renewable sources such as solar and wind energy. “The bill lays out the road map that will lead New Mexico from a fossil-fuel-based economy to a green economy,” Candelaria said in an interview.

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.

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.