July 19, 2023

State agencies begin distributing energy transition funds

Hannah Grover

The Frank Chee Willeto Reservoir is seen June 9

State agencies are continuing to work to distribute funds made available through the Energy Transition Act to communities and workers impacted by the closure of the San Juan Generating Station.

Officials from the New Mexico Economic Development Department, the Department of Workforce Solutions and the Indian Affairs Department presented updates on the expenditures to the Legislative Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Some committee members including Farmington Senators William Sharer and Steve Neville, both Republicans, questioned the speed at which the funding was made available. The transition funds did not begin to enter the community until nearly a year after the power plant closed. 

This was because those funds were not state money, but rather came from the sale of low-interest bonds to refinance the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s past investments into the coal-fired power plant.

PNM provided the money to the state a short time before the plant closed. Then the funding, once received, had to be allocated by the Legislature.

That meant the earliest the funding could possibly reach the community or workers was this spring.

Mark Roper, the director of the state’s Economic Development Division, said his agency is now working to get the $5.9 million it received out into the community, however it is still waiting for the final Energy Transition Committee public meeting, which will provide recommendations to the state agency on how to allocate the funds.

“It is our intent to move that money out as rapidly as possible,” he said.

While the Economic Development Division and the Department of Workforce Solutions are waiting for a final meeting and recommendations from the Energy Transition Committee, the Indian Affairs Department has already selected the five projects that will receive its $1.8 million allocation.

These projects are focused primarily on agriculture and include $400,000 for the Shiprock Traditional Farmers Co-op, $500,000 for Native Renewables, $305,000 for Diné Introspective’s food sovereignty proposal, $250,000 for an irrigation project proposed by Northern New Mexico Indigenous Farmers and $350,000 for a sustainable farming initiative through the Diné Centered Research and Evaluation.

The Department of Workforce Solutions has distributed some of the money it received in the form of direct payments to displaced workers, but not all of the ETA funds for workforce development will go to that purpose.

The Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Sarita Nair said the legislature provided an additional allocation to the displaced workers fund this year. She said the Energy Transition Committee was comfortable with direct payments to displaced workers if new money was added. 

“What was great about having an in person application process for the direct assistance was that we had to have a one-on-one meeting with every single worker,” Nair said.

She said that allowed the department to learn more about the individuals and what their interests are.

The department began distributing direct payments of $20,000 to displaced workers in May.

Nair said the department has received 404 applications for direct payments and, as of last week, had delivered more than 350 checks.

While there was fear that the displaced workers would be forced to leave northwest New Mexico in search of work, Nair said 94 percent continue to live in San Juan County. About 30 percent of the workers retired upon the closure of the power plant.

Of the displaced workers, 176 have expressed interest in receiving training opportunities that could help them move into a new career. Some of the areas they are interested in include commercial drivers licenses and computer technology careers.

One hundred twenty-six displaced workers are now employed full time and seven of them are working part time, though many of them reported decreased wages. The average decrease in income for those employees is about $27,000, though 19 employees reported making as much or more than they did before the layoffs.