In the more than four decades he worked at the San Juan Generating Station, Allen Palmer saw units three and four come online. Then he watched unit three close in 2017 and now, as he prepares to retire, he is watching unit four close down. He sat in the control room on Wednesday as the plant burned through the dwindling supplies of coal. Unit four’s life was no longer measured in years, months or even days. Instead, maybe a dozen hours or so remained until workers would begin the process of shutting down the unit.
It was July 1, 1969. Representatives of Public Service Company of New Mexico and Tucson Gas and Electric signed an agreement to partner on the San Juan Generating Station. The first unit would be 330 megawatts and the two entities would evenly share the ownership and power generated. More than half a century later, the power plant they agreed to build is shutting down this week and for many of the activists who have fought against the coal-fired facility the moment feels a bit bittersweet. While they are excited to see the power plant that has emitted pollutants close, they say their work is not yet over.
With only a few months left before the beginning of the legislative session, efforts are picking up to draft legislation.
Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, hosted a meeting on Tuesday to discuss legislation that would enable the creation of regional water utility authorities similar to the ones that serve communities in the Lower Rio Grande area and Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. This is not the legislation’s first rodeo, as Herrera put it. Wirth sponsored the Regional Water Utility Authority Act in 2019, but it died. Currently, small water systems in the state have options like entering into joint power agreements or creating umbrella entities, but these don’t fully address the needs. “I want to believe that timing is everything,” Herrera said.
New Mexicans who do not use all of their groundwater rights for a certain length of time can lose the rights to the unused portion, according to a new ruling out of the state Supreme Court. A well that once provided water to steam engines on a bustling railroad in the now-defunct railroad and mining town of Cutter, located in Sierra County near Truth or Consequences, ceased operations. Since then, only three acre-feet of water per year has been used and the water rights have been transferred to a new owner. This water came from a well built to supply the railroad and livestock. Cutter dates back to the late 1800s when it formed as a mining community.
Democratic members of Congress from New Mexico and Colorado sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation urging the agency to prioritize funding for long-term solutions to the Colorado River Basin water crisis. This comes as the Bureau has $4 billion in funding allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act to address drought in the west. “The [Colorado] River is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, with nearly 40 million people reliant on the water resources across seven states and 30 Tribes,” the letter states. U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both from New Mexico, and U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury, also from New Mexico, joined Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet and Reps.
A consortium led by Los Alamos National Laboratory is using federal funding provided to find orphaned wells and help states prioritize plugging efforts. The Infsatructure Investment and Jobs Act included $30 million to establish the consortium, which is tasked with developing technologies and best practices that will be used to locate undocumented orphaned wells, characterizing the construction of the wells determining how much methane they are emitting as well as looking at wellbore integrity and environmental impact.
The consortium includes the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
LANL’s Hari Viswanathan is the lead scientist overseeing the multi-national-lab effort.
“I think [orphaned wells are] a very impactful problem and it is sort of a grand challenge because there’s a lot of these wells out there and they’re pretty challenging to detect,” he said. “That actually requires leading edge science to do that.”
He said there are an estimated hundreds of thousands of orphaned wells nationwide and addressing them has bipartisan support. “You don’t want these wells polluting people’s land,” he said. “You also don’t want the climate impacts of these wells.”
Orphaned wells are essentially wells that, for reasons like age and bankruptcy of the company that operated them, now have no owner of record.
Local communities need to prepare for the impacts of climate change, New Mexico State Climatologist David DuBois said during the Four Corners Air Quality Group meeting Wednesday in Farmington. The air quality group consists of state agencies from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico as well as federal and tribal agencies working together to address air quality in the Four Corners region.
This group started more than 15 years ago. At the time, the area was on the verge of violating federal ozone standards, Michael Baca of the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau said. He said the air quality has improved, but ozone levels remain a challenge and federal standards have become more strict.
“We have a tremendous task ahead of us to address the climate challenge,” Claudia Borchert, climate change policy coordinator for NMED, said.
Borchert highlighted the state’s efforts to address emissions including the Energy Transition Act, the natural gas waste rule and the ozone precursor rules.
DuBois provided statistics focused on the northwest corner of the state. Since 1970, the area has warmed on an average rate of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
At the same time, the southwest United States has been gripped by drought for more than 20 years.
While the drought isn’t as dry as past droughts, DuBois said the warmer temperatures exacerbate the conditions.
“Drought is more complex than just lack of water,” he said.
DuBois said dry soil and increased evaporation means less water is available even when it does rain.
A new mining claim threatens the ecosystem and sacred sites around the town of Mogollon, about 75 miles northwest of Silver City, according to Indigenous and environmental advocates. In late August, Canadian-based mining company Summa Silver announced that it had staked a new claim at the Mogollon Project.
“Although the Mogollon mining district remains underappreciated, we think it has good potential to develop into a classic American mining district,” CEO Galen McNamara said in the Aug. 30 announcement. “Within that context, acquiring mineral rights to more land via inexpensive claim staking was an easy decision, particularly given that the new claims are known to have a number of prospect trenches and remain completely unexplored by modern methods.”
While many people might think of jewelry when they think about silver, the metal also plays an important role in solar energy production. This has driven an increased demand for silver.
An environment and consumer protection advocacy group said the Public Service Company of New Mexico and AVANGRID engaged in an ad campaign to mislead the public. New Energy Economy filed a motion to show cause with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Friday. In a press release, the group stated that the order to show cause comes as a result of emails from confused New Mexico residents who have seen advertisements that make it look as if PNM and AVANGRID are a single company. The PRC rejected an application for the two entities to merge last year, though that decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court. NEE has asked the PRC to investigate what it terms as a “deceptive and misleading co-branding strategy” that it alleges PNM and AVANGRID are engaging in because “they believe that the PRC’s decision is no more than a small pothole on the way to the merger that they are hell-bent on accomplishing.”
“When PNM CFO Don Tarry was deposed in another case, he accidentally referred to the merger as ‘delayed’ rather than its actual status – denied, because the PRC that we elected determined that it would not serve the public interest,” NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said in a press release.
As wildfires spread at sometimes an alarming rate through the western United States, so does the misinformation about fire science and wildfires. A group of fire scientists have penned an article published this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment highlighting the misinformation about wildfires. “Misinformation confuses people about the causes, contexts, and impacts of wildfire and substantially hinders society’s ability to proactively adapt to and plan for inevitable future fires,” the authors wrote in the paper. Gavin Jones, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Center based in Albuquerque, was the lead author in the paper. He said the main goal was to raise awareness about the issue.