February 28, 2023

Delays in ETA funding left some laid-off workers ineligible for assistance

Hannah Grover

The final day of operations at San Juan Generating Station

When the Energy Transition Act passed in 2019, legislators thought that the funding for displaced workers would be available as the layoffs at the San Juan Generating Station and San Juan Mine occurred.

However, this did not come into fruition.

Layoffs began in 2020 and the state did not receive the funds from the Public Service Company of New Mexico until July 2022. Most workers at the power plant were laid off in 2022, but the funds have not been available even for those workers. Mine workers saw earlier layoffs than power plant workers as the generating station switched to stockpiled coal.

San Juan County representatives Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, Mark Duncan, R-Kirtland, Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, and Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, sponsored HB 449 to try to address issues arising from that delay. That bill passed its first committee hearing on Monday in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, which approved the bill unanimously.

The Energy Transition Act defined an eligible worker as a New Mexico resident who, within the previous 12 months, lost their job as a result of the closure of a power plant or mine. That excludes workers who were laid off in 2020 or 2021.

HB 449 would eliminate that time requirement.

Duncan said there are hundreds of displaced workers who need more help or have not received any help.

The delay in funding was in part due to the Energy Transition Act being caught up in court battles. PNM also chose to wait to file its rate case until late 2022, thus delaying when the company would issue bonds. The $6.9 million of Energy Transition Act funding for displaced workers was supposed to be funded through PNM selling low-interest bonds to refinance past investments into the power plant. Those bonds have not been sold and PNM has said it plans to issue the bonds in conjunction with the current rate case. The utility provided funds in advance of selling the bonds to the energy transition funds, though it plans to recoup that money once the bonds sell. 

PNM says that it chose to delay the rate case when COVID-19 hit out of concerns about how a rate increase would impact customers.

A Energy Transition Act Committee was set up to determine the best way to allocate the money provided through the energy transition funds.

During a meeting in November, unions representing the mine and power plant workers asked the committee to use the money that was set aside for displaced workers to help with the out-of-pocket health insurance costs the workers have faced since being laid off.

Related: Displaced coal miners, power plant workers ask for help with health insurance

HB 449 passed its first committee, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, on a 9-0 vote and now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Some committee members, including Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, expressed frustration about how the process unfolded with the closing of the power plant and the delay in funding. She said what the legislators thought they were going to see did not occur.

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Cabinet Secretary Sarita Nair touched on some of the services that her department has been able to provide to workers, including a bridge class at San Juan College to familiarize them with the various trade programs the college offers.