Critics say PNM, Avangrid merger could hurt ratepayers, environment

Government entities, utilities and watchdog groups say a merger between Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid could harm both ratepayers and the environment unless protections are included. These entities filed testimony in a New Mexico Public Regulation Commission case evaluating the merger. This merger is subject to the PRC approval as well as approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. PNM’s parent company, PNM Resources, is seeking to merge with Avangrid, a U.S. subsidiary of renewable energy giant Iberdrola, which is based in Spain. The PRC hearings related to the merger are scheduled to start on May 3 and testimony has been filed expressing a variety of concerns.

PRC orders PNM to address past use of Palo Verde as it seeks to end its leases at the facility

State regulators asked the state’s largest utility to defend a past decision to continue leasing shares of a nuclear power plant as it now asks regulators to approve replacing that electricity with renewable sources. Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) has filed to replace the energy it gets from leased shares of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station with renewable sources. The filing came earlier this month and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission issued an order beginning the process, which was unanimously approved on April 21. The order requires PNM to file additional testimony regarding unresolved issues from a 2015 case. These unresolved issues are about a decision to acquire additional leases and extend its leases in the Palo Verde facility.

American Lung Association releases State of the Air report

Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Taos counties received “A” grades from the American Lung Association in terms of particle pollution, however ozone pollution remains a problem. Bernalillo County received an “F” for the number of high ozone days while Santa Fe County received a “C.” Data was not available to evaluate Taos County. The American Lung Association released its 22nd annual State of the Air report today. This report is based on air quality data from 2017, 2018 and 2019. The Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Vegas area in New Mexico tied with Albany and Schenectady, New York, as having the second cleanest air in the country in terms of short-term particle pollution, according to the report.

The retired Escalante Power Plant may be converted into a hydrogen plant

When Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. announced the closure of the Escalante Power Plant in 2020, McKinley and Cibola counties braced for the economic impacts of losing a major employer. But a possible new owner is hoping to breathe life back into the closed coal-fired generating station through a first-of-its-kind makeover. This will not only restore the jobs to the area, but add additional jobs. Newpoint Gas LLC partnered with Brooks Energy Company to form Escalante H2 Power. The partners are working to transform Escalante into a hydrogen facility rather than coal-fired generation.

State land commissioner says the office is nearing her goal for renewable energy development

When Stephanie Garcia Richard took the office of State Land Commissioner following the 2018 elections, she had the goal of tripling renewable energy development on state lands. “We are very rapidly closing in on that goal two years later,” Garcia Richard told NM Political Report. There were 453 megawatts of renewable energy when she took office. That has more than doubled in the past couple of years and the State Land Office has inked deals for even more future projects. Angie Poss, a spokesperson for the State Land Office, said 466 megawatts have been added since Garcia Richard took office and, with the upcoming projects, the office will definitely get to the goal of tripling renewable energy on state trust land.

Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

Even though they aren’t actively producing oil or gas, orphaned wells can still spew climate-changing gases into the atmosphere and threaten water sources. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, said plugging these wells is an important step to protecting communities and can help put people back to work. He has teamed up with Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, to introduce the Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells Act, also called the REGROW Act, calling for $4.275 billion to clean up orphaned wells on state and private lands as well as $400 million for plugging wells on public and tribal lands. It also includes $32 million for related research, development and implementation. “New Mexico has the worst methane emissions in the country,” Luján told NM Political Report last week. 

NASA scientists have discovered a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin in the northwest portion of the state.

Habitat Stamp Project funding requests range from riparian restoration to protecting elk habitat

Beaver once swam in Big Bear Creek in the Lincoln National Forest and built their dams in the area, which improved the ecosystem. But the semi-aquatic rodents have since abandoned that part of their range amid habitat loss. “We’ve lost a lot of the riparian vegetation, the biomass and species diversification within this area,” said Larry Cordova, a biologist with the Lincoln National Forest. Now the U.S Forest Service is asking for $20,000 of funding from the Habitat Stamp Program to improve the riparian area ecosystem, including building fake beaver dams that play the function the beavers once played in the creek system. This is one of two dozen proposals presented to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Habitat Stamp Program Citizen Advisory Committee this week by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Environmental group reaches settlement with Wildlife Services suit over animal killing policies

A federal agency kills thousands of wild animals annually through contracts aimed at protecting livestock and agriculture interests, but a conservation advocacy group hopes a new legal settlement will reduce the number of animals killed in New Mexico. The settlement comes after WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in October. Wildlife Services is a branch of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 

In an April 13 press release announcing the settlement, WildEarth Guardians described it as a major win for New Mexico’s wildlife. 

Related: Lawsuit asks Wildlife Services to update its research on ‘outdated’ wildlife management program

In a statement to NM Political Report, Tanya Espinosa, a public affairs specialist with USDA APHIS, said Wildlife Services New Mexico implemented interim measures following the stipulated settlement agreement that was reached in March. 

Espinosa said these measures will remain in place pending an Environmental Assessment. If the EA results in significant findings, an Environmental Impact Statement will be completed. 

“WS-New Mexico is currently developing a new EA for its Predator Damage Management Activities in New Mexico and will make a draft available for public comment,” Espinosa said. Wildlife services last completed an Environmental Assessment for predator damage management in New Mexico in 2006, and WildEarth Guardians argued that scientific knowledge regarding predators has changed in the past 15 years.

New Mexico is experiencing climate change in the form of drought

Hydrologist Katrina Bennett describes extreme weather events like droughts and floods as the way that human societies experience climate change. These events are immediately noticeable and can have rippling impacts, including economic repercussions. These events will become more frequent and intense amid climate change, according to a paper Bennett published in the journal Water on April 1. Bennett’s co-authors include Carl Talsma and Riccardo Boero, who also work at Los Alamos National Laboratories. The study highlights the need to look at the extreme events together.

Youth activists plan protest as oil and gas industry group presents award to Lujan Grisham (Retracted)

When following up on this story after the supposed award, NM Political Report learned that Youth United for Climate Crisis Action invented the fake award as a “creative hook” according to a spokesperson for the group. The governor’s office was not aware of the non-existent award from the non-existent group. NM Political Report is retracting this story and removing links from social media. The story, as originally written, is available below for transparency. A group of activists is planning a protest for Saturday as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham receives an award from an oil and gas industry group.