An agreement between El Paso Electric and community advocates may lead to cleaner air in the southern part of New Mexico while allowing the utility to construct a new unit at a natural gas generating facility in west Texas.
The settlement agreement between the utility and the Chaparral Community Coalition for Health and the Environment as well as the Sierra Club comes as EPE seeks an air permit to construct Unit 6 at the Newman Generating Station, which is a natural gas power plant located in Texas near the New Mexico state line.
“The permit will authorize EPE to begin construction of the state-of-the-art 228 megawatt natural gas replacement unit necessary to meet our customers’ growing energy needs,” EPE said in a statement. “Newman Unit 6 will allow for the inevitable decommissioning of older generating units.”
The Chaparral Community Coalition for Health and the Environment and the Sierra Club opposed the construction of Unit 6, but have agreed to withdraw their legal challenge of the air permit following the agreement.
“We do not want Newman 6. But if it’s going to be built anyway, it’s better built with this settlement than without it,” said former Doña Ana County Commissioner David Garcia, a Chaparral resident, in a press release. “Newman 6 will now pollute our community less than it would have otherwise, and EPE will pay into a fund to support the community they are impacting.”
The agreement prevents EPE from building any new fossil fuel generating units for four years, with limited exceptions, and prohibits the future construction of any subsequent units at the Newman Generating Station once Unit 6 is constructed.
“After Unit 6 is completed, El Paso Electric committed to no new fossil fuel generation at Newman ever again,” said Antoinette Reyes from the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. “While we are far from attaining a 100 percent clean and renewable grid, this settlement brings us that much closer while also giving a traditionally marginalized community of color a fighting chance.”
The agreement also requires EPE to begin decommissioning of two natural gas units built before the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970.
It also requires EPE to provide funding to address volatile organic compound pollution in El Paso County in Texas. Volatile organic compounds can react with oxides of nitrogen and sunlight to form ozone and pollution in Texas can cause smog in New Mexico.
EPE is also required to create a fund to support communities impacted by pollution and to mitigate the local effects of the pollution from the Newman Generating Station, including Chaparral.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has prohibited EPE from selling power generated at Newman Unit 6 to New Mexico customers.
“This agreement is an important step towards achieving cleaner air in El Paso, even though far more needs to be done to reduce emissions in the El Paso area,” said David Baake, a Las Cruces-based attorney who represented the advocacy groups in challenging the Newman 6 air permit, in a press release. “We have forced El Paso Electric to substantially reduce dangerous emissions and to commit to a moratorium on fossil fuel development–a historic achievement that can and should serve as a precedent for utilities across the country. But as long as El Paso Electric continues to run any of its fossil fuel units, our community will continue to suffer. The next step is for EPE to commit to achieving 100% clean energy–and we will keep fighting to make sure it does.”
EPE stated that Newman Unit 6 will use natural gas more efficiently and will reduce the utility’s water consumption by 600 million gallons annually, which is about the amount of water needed for 12,000 households.
“The continued development of our region has increased customer demand for energy by about 2 percent per year and Newman Unit 6 is essential to keep pace with our region’s growth,” EPE stated.