Connecticut-based utility company agrees to buy PNM Resources

The company that owns New Mexico’s largest utility PNM is being acquired by Avangrid, a Connecticut-based utility owner, in a merger deal totalling $8.3 billion. The two companies announced the deal early Wednesday. 

Avangrid operates natural gas and electric utilities and renewable energy generation assets across 24 states. The investor-owned company’s headquarters are located in Orange, Connecticut, but the majority shareholder is Spain-based Iberdrola, S.A., which is the third largest utility company in the world. 

Avangrid’s renewable energy-focused arm is considered one of the largest in the world. It’s the third largest wind energy operator in the U.S., with 7.4 gigawatts of installed wind and solar capacity. The company owns 1.9-gigawatt capacity wind projects in New Mexico and Texas and 200 megawatts of wind and solar capacity in Arizona.

Nearly 600 new cases of COVID-19, seven deaths

State health officials reported 599 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and seven deaths related to the disease. This is the sixth time in the last week that the state has reported 500 or more cases after not doing so in the previous seven months of the pandemic. 

Bernalillo County reported 154 new cases of the disease, while Doña Ana County reported 135 new cases. Eleven other counties reported double-digit increases in cases: Curry County (45), Santa Fe County (33), San Juan County (30), Otero County (29), Chaves County (26), Eddy County (21), Lea County (18), Sandoval County (18), Luna County (17), McKinley County (16) and Valencia County (15). 

The state Department of Health also reported one new case among individuals held by federal agencies at the Otero County Prison Facility and one new case among New Mexico Corrections Department inmates at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County. DOH offered the following information about the seven deaths: 

A male in his 80s from Curry County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A female in her 80s from Eddy County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A second female in her 80s from Eddy County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 60s from Roosevelt County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 40s from Santa Fe County who had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Santa Fe County who was hospitalized and was a resident of the Kingston Residence in Santa Fe.A female in her 90s from Santa Fe County who was hospitalized and was a resident of the Kingston Residence in Santa Fe. DOH did not disclose which underlying condition the man had, only if one was present.

‘We’re all in the same storm.’ Some voters worry politicians aren’t taking climate change seriously enough

For 18-year-old Artemisio Romero y Carver, a single piece of legislation changed his outlook on participating in democracy. 

Romero y Carver, a steering committee member of Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), said that before 2019, he was not engaged with the politics of a government that he felt didn’t represent him or address his concerns. 

“Then I read the Green New Deal. For the first time I saw a document, a piece of legislation, something that was part of the U.S. government that didn’t seem antithetical to my own life, that seemed like a genuine representation of my interests, in policy,” he said. 

Romero y Carver was not alone. The Green New Deal, introduced by U.S. Rep. for New York Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, galvanized a sector of the electorate, even if it didn’t get very far in Congress. The legislation, a set of goals which outlined an aggressive transition to renewables that included support for fossil fuel-dependent communities and the electrification of the U.S. transportation sector, was quickly written off by many moderate Democrats and the entire Republican Party at the national level as being unrealistic.  

But for Romero y Carver, and other young voters who are deeply concerned about climate change, the plan was an example of exactly the type of policies that are needed to address the climate crisis head on. 

“In general, I find that people my age recognize climate change and recognize the immediate need for bold action. But we also don’t feel that that is ever possible when it comes to voting.

Errors in absentee ballots sent to Taos, San Juan County

Thousands of absentee ballots sent to voters in two counties contained errors on them that could impact those votes being counted. The errors were first reported by Taos News, after residents in Taos reported receiving their returned ballots and social media posts about the issue began circulating online. 

Alex Curtas, communications director for the New Mexico Secretary of State, confirmed to the Taos News that ballots sent to residents in Taos County and San Juan County contained errors in a barcode printed on the outer envelope of the ballot that route the ballot back to the voter, rather than to the respective county clerks’ offices. 

“The USPS is aware of this issue and has put a procedure in place to ensure all ballots are delivered to the county clerk,” Curtas told Taos News. “Voters who may have been affected by this issue should use NMVOTE.ORG to track their ballot or call their county clerk’s office to confirm receipt of their ballot. Voters should also be aware that they can drop their absentee ballot off at any polling location in their county.”

The error is printed on absentee ballots sent to 4,000 Taos County voters and 6,500 San Juan County voters, according to Curtas. Over 6,200 voters in Taos County and 10,000 voters in San Juan County have requested absentee ballots as of Friday morning.

Oil Conservation Commission agrees to hear proposal for produced water spills

The Oil Conservation Commission agreed Thursday to set a hearing date for a proposed rule that would make spilling produced water illegal. The decision was in response to a petition filed by WildEarth Guardians in September calling on the OCC to adopt rules to make spilling produced water illegal. 

Under the current regulatory framework, oil and gas operators face little to no consequences for spilling the toxic fracking fluid in the state, as long as they report the spill to the Oil Conservation Division. Produced water spills are very common in New Mexico, particularly in the southeastern region of the state in the Permian Basin. In the vast majority of cases, no penalties are assessed against the operator. “Oil and Gas wastewater, aka produced water, is toxic.

States faces billions in well plugging costs as Fed buys millions in oil and gas bonds

Just a few weeks after the pandemic hit New Mexico, the price of oil plunged into negative territory for the first time in history. Production screeched to a halt worldwide, workers were laid off, and wells were temporarily plugged while operators hoped to wait out a price war between two of the world’s largest oil suppliers, Russia and Saudi Arabia. More than six months later, the oilfields in New Mexico are starting to show signs of life. Some of the wells that were shut in earlier in the pandemic are now back online, though just 47 well rigs—which drill new wells—are up and running, representing 40 percent of those operating in 2019 before the pandemic hit. 

“We’re hearing anecdotally that some producers are choosing to restart some of that production. “We’re still holding fairly steady, with a rig count in the 40s,” Robert McEntyre, director of communications at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said.

Indigenous leaders and activists call for solution for To’Hajiilee water crisis

Indigenous community leaders and activists held a virtual information session on Indigenous People’s Day to bring awareness to a water crisis in To’Hajiilee, a Diné community 20 miles west of Albuquerque. 

The community of roughly 2,500 is currently relying on just one supply well, which pumps water up from the Rio Puerco aquifer. The water levels in the aquifer have dropped in recent decades, and what water that’s left is filled with corrosive dissolved solids that eat through the pump equipment and wreak havoc on the indoor plumbing systems of the residents in To’Hajiilee. 

The Navajo Nation owns rights to surface water that could be piped into To’Hajiilee and serve the community. To’Hajiilee and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) have already devised a project plan to build a pipeline that would transport the water from a holding tank in the county’s far western boundaries to To’Hajiilee. 

But plans to access and transport that water are being thwarted by a development firm that hasn’t agreed to sell a two-mile easement for the pipeline. RELATED: A ‘humanitarian crisis’: To’Hajiilee’s aquifer is running out of water

“I thought today would be a really, really important day and an important message to share in front of my children that we are important, we are here, we need to be seen, we need to be heard and what better day to do it than on Indigenous People’s Day,” said Renee Chaco Aragon, a resident of To’Hajiilee and mother of ten. “We need people that are willing to listen, take time out of their lives and out of their day, to help us in our crisis.”

It’s not uncommon for the community’s single supply well to go down, Aragon said, disrupting daily life for everyone in the community. 

“It is a very nerve-wracking thing to deal with on a day to day basis.

Los Alamos County looks to nuclear for carbon-free power

On one of the hottest days this summer, Los Alamos County nearly ran out of power. 

The coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington unexpectedly went down, leaving the Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities scrambling to make up the energy. Several other providers were unable to deliver power to the county for various reasons, including transmission line constraints. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this, the people I work with have never seen anything like this,” said Los Alamos Power Network Manager Jordan Garcia during a Board of Public Utilities meeting in August. “We were all on our own to make up that difference.” 

All said and done, the county paid over a million dollars over a couple of days to keep the lights—and the air conditioning—on for its customers. The San Juan Generating Station is coal-fired—considered the most “reliable” energy sources because it can deliver the same amount of power all day every day, as long as it has coal to burn. But as states increasingly adopt clean energy mandates, and more renewables come online, utility managers fear more incidents like this one may occur more frequently. 

The electricity markets in the west are changing, and that could further strain the county’s access to reliable power.

Second day of 480+ new COVID-19 cases, five related deaths

State health officials reported nearly 500 new cases of COVID-19 for the second day in a row, and five additional deaths. 

The state Department of Health reported 486 new cases of the disease on Saturday, just two fewer than the record-setting 488 new cases reported Friday. The state has now recorded 32,722 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. 

Two counties accounted for half of Saturday’s new cases: Bernalillo County reported 167 new cases, and Doña Ana County reported 73 new cases. Nine other counties reported double-digit increases. Those counties are Curry County (42), Chaves County (38), Sandoval County (27), Eddy County (16), Valencia County (12), Lea Count (11), San Juan County (11), Roosevelt County (11) and Santa Fe County (10). 

The Otero County Processing Center also reported 15 new cases among inmates being held by federal agencies. 

The five new deaths bring the state’s total to 907. 

DOH provided the following information on the newly announced deaths:

A female in her 70s from Eddy County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 80s from Lea County who had underlying conditions.A male in his 50s from McKinley County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions.A male in his 30s from San Juan County who had underlying conditions.A female in her 80s from Santa Fe County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. 

DOH does not disclose which underlying condition any of the deceased had, only if one was present. There are currently 130 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, three fewer than reported Friday.

2020 Elections: U.S. House candidates on environmental issues

This week, we’re running a series of interviews with New Mexico’s federal candidates, each of whom answered questions about issues related to our energy future, water scarcity and climate change. First Congressional District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland is running for reelection against Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes. Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, was one of the first two indigenous women to be elected to Congress when she won her election in 2018. Prior to that, Haaland served as chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party from 2015 to 2017. In 2014, Haaland ran for Lieutenant Governor on former state Attorney General Gary King’s gubernatorial ticket, but ultimately lost to Republican Susana Martinez and Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez.