March 7, 2023

San Juan County approves PNM’s demolition plans for coal-fired plant

Hannah Grover

The final day of operations at San Juan Generating Station

The San Juan County Commission unanimously approved a plan submitted by the Public Service Company of New Mexico for demolition and remediation of the San Juan Generating Station on Tuesday.

The coal-fired power plant closed in September and a county ordinance required PNM to submit the plans for commission approval.

That ordinance was passed in 2021 after PNM had announced that it would be closing the power plant. There were concerns at the time that the power plant could be allowed to remain standing for decades to come. PNM had indicated to state regulators that it intended to retire the power plant in place, meaning that it would do some work to make sure the structure was safe but would not tear it down until a later date.

The county commission passed the ordinance to prevent that scenario from happening.

The entire process will likely take about four years to complete, a PNM official informed the county commission.

County Manager Mike Stark said the plan indicates the area will be leveled, with the exception of some portions such as the electric substation, and there are no proposed projects for power generation at the closed plant. One replacement power project—the San Juan Solar project—will be built near the site and will tie in to the substation.

A pump station that was used to provide water to the power plant for operations will be sold to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The demolition and remediation plan states that the sale will likely be finalized this year. This intake structure will be used as part of the Navajo-Gallup water supply project.

All pits, trenches and basements at the facility will be backfilled with crushed concrete.

The Shumway Arroyo and Memorial Groundwater Recovery Systems will remain operating “until the conditions of the relevant discharge permits and the Sierra Club Consent Decree are satisfied,” the remediation plan states, referencing a court case in which the Sierra Club sued PNM as well as coal companies connected to the San Juan Mine alleging that activities at the mine and power plant could impact groundwater.

Stark said there have been questions about if HB 142, which would increase state oversight of the demolition and remediation process, would contradict the county’s ordinance requirements.

He said he has spoken with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, and Allison believes that the bill is compatible with the ordinance.

Related: San Juan Generating Station, mine remediation bill heads to House floor

“We had our ordinance in place specifically designed to make certain that the plant was decommissioned, that there wasn’t a permanent eyesore left on the landscape,” Stark said.

He said the state agencies like the New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department will have the ability to oversee the process to make sure the facility is properly decommissioned and the site is remediated.