PRC OKs PNM’s San Juan Generating Station exit

The Public Regulation Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve PNM’s application for abandoning the San Juan Generating Station and using securitization bonds to recover some of the investment PNM will lose in the process. The decision, which was widely expected, came after the state Supreme Court ordered the PRC to apply law changes made by the Energy Transition Act towards PNM’s exit of the coal-fired plant. The ETA, which requires all the state’s utilities to transition to “net zero” electricity generation by 2050, enabled PNM to use securitization as a mechanism to help pay for its transition away from coal. But PRC commissioners were previously hesitant to apply the new law to PNM’s plans for exiting the San Juan Generating Station. PNM announced its plan to close the plant in 2017, but didn’t submit the application to do so until after the ETA was in effect. 

RELATED: Natural gas will play a big role in state’s energy transition

The PRC’s decision was widely lauded by a coalition of clean energy and environmental justice advocates who say the securitization will reduce customers’ utility bills, provide financial support to the coal-dependent communities in San Juan County, and help create new clean energy jobs.

Critics question EPA decision to not enforce some regulations

Environmental groups and conservation advocates are reeling after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it will no longer enforce some of its regulations during the coronavirus pandemic. The EPA issued Wednesday a “temporary policy” regarding enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the pandemic that applies to civil violations “during the COVID-19 outbreak.” The enforcement policy is back-dated to March 13. The EPA said during the pandemic that it won’t enforce noncompliance of routine monitoring, reporting obligations and other regulations but said it “expects regulated facilities to comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible.” The policy has no end date. “EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, in a statement. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”

The rule change comes after an industry group called for leniency in compliance during this time.

Natural gas will play a big role in state’s energy transition

We are one year into the Energy Transition Act, and utilities across the state are now charting their courses towards carbon-free generation. The goal is to meet demand for electricity with 100 percent “zero-carbon” sources by 2045 for investor-owned utilities and 2050 for electric cooperatives. Renewable energy is now cost-competitive with other sources of power generation like coal and nuclear; and investments in renewable energy projects have steadily grown in New Mexico, which is rich in both wind and sun. But renewables don’t produce energy as reliably as coal, and utilities say that poses a big problem for delivering electricity to customers when the wind isn’t blowing, or the sun isn’t shining. So, they’ve turned to natural gas to supplement power needs while bringing more renewables online, touting it as a crucial stepping stone in the transition to renewables.

Guv signs solar tax credit, clean energy bills into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a slate of bills into law Tuesday afternoon aimed at expanding renewable energy and modernizing the state’s electricity infrastructure, including a bill that reinstates the solar tax credit that expired under the previous administration. SB 29, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque and Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, reinstates the solar tax credit that expired in 2016. The bill creates a personal income tax credit to cover 10 percent of the costs of a solar thermal or solar photovoltaic system for residential, business or agriculture applications. The new law is applicable to tax years starting on January 1, 2020. The tax credit will help more New Mexico families and small businesses “invest in solar, and will boost our statewide effort to move toward the goal of having a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2030,” Stewart said.

Amid groundwater declines, water data gains importance

The Ogallala aquifer is rapidly declining. The large underground reservoir stretches from Wyoming and the Dakotas to New Mexico, with segments crossing key farmland in Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. It serves as the main water source for what’s known as the breadbasket of America — an area that contributes at least a fifth of the total annual agricultural harvest in the United States. The U.S. Geological Survey began warning about the aquifer’s depletion in the 1960s, though the severity of the issue seems to have only recently hit the mainstream. Farmers in places like Kansas are now grappling with the reality of dried up wells.

The clean energy bills that cleared the legislature

The 2020 Legislative session finished promptly at noon on Thursday after a week of long nights in debate that resulted in the passage of the number of clean energy bills backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. However, not every priority passed the legislature this year. Here’s a look at the clean energy bills that made it to the governor’s desk this year, and the ones that didn’t. Solar tax credit: Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, often joked about how many times she sponsored a bill to reinstate the solar tax credit since the credit expired in 2016. “I hate to count how many times the committee’s actually heard [this bill],” Stewart joked with a House committee during the session.

Senate sends EV tax credit back to House

The Senate passed a second bill that would create a tax credit for electric vehicles late Wednesday evening, after passing a similar Senate bill one day earlier. On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 2, sponsored by Pat Woods, R-Broadview, and Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, by a narrow vote of 19-18. The Senate then passed HB 217, sponsored by Mesilla Democratic Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena and Santa Fe Democratic Rep. Jim Trujillo, by a vote of 23-13, late Wednesday night. RELATED: Senate version of electric vehicle tax credit passes floor by one vote

“This bill is almost a mirror bill to SB 2,” Woods said. “The only difference between this bill and the electric vehicle income tax credit bill that I passed earlier was that this bill requires you to be a resident of the state of New Mexico before you receive a tax credit.”

“This bill was amended in Senate Finance [Committee] to mirror my bill,” Woods added.

Solar tax credit heads to Guv’s desk

A bill to reinstate a solar tax credit is headed to the governor’s desk. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, passed the House floor Wednesday by a vote of 51-19. SB 29 would create a personal income tax credit to cover 10 percent of the costs of a solar thermal or solar photovoltaic system for residential, business or agriculture applications. Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo is the House sponsor of the bill. 

New Mexico initiated a similar tax credit in the last decade, which expired in 2016. The Legislature passed a bill to reinstate the credit that same year, but it was pocket-vetoed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez.

PRC reform bill dies in Senate committee

A proposal to restructure the Public Regulation Commission died in the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee after a two-plus hour debate. The bill was tabled by a vote of 5-4. Democratic Reps. Nathan Small of Las Cruces and Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe presented HB 11 to the committee Tuesday afternoon. Small and Trujillo told the committee the bill would help address staffing issues at the PRC and make the commission more efficient.

Senate version of electric vehicle tax credit passes floor by one vote

A Senate proposal to create an electric vehicle tax credit passed the Senate floor Tuesday by just one vote. SB 2, sponsored by Sens. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, and Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, would create personal income tax credits for New Mexico residents who purchase or lease plug-in hybrid vehicles or 100 percent battery electric vehicles. The bill provides a $2,500 tax credit for residents whose annual income is above $50,000; but the tax credit jumps to $5,000 for residents who make less than $50,000. “We’re talking really about taxing the poor,” said Albuquerque Republican Sen. Mark Moores during the debate.