Governor to travel to Egypt for UN climate conference

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will be traveling to Egypt on Friday to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27. The governor has made climate change a central issue and this will not be her first time attending the international conference. Last year she spoke at the U.S. Climate Action Center as part of the Cut Methane panel alongside White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy, U.N. Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg and others. Lujan Grisham is a part of the U.S. Climate Alliance and environmental groups are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to model methane rules after the rules developed in New Mexico as a result of an executive order Lujan Grisham issued. 

COP27 began on Sunday. Lujan Grisham plans to attend the second week of the climate conference.

PRC approves community solar bill credit

After initially rejecting the proposals from the state’s three investor-owned utilities proposals for their community solar programs, state regulators approved one part of the modified versions the three utilities submitted—the bill credits. 

This came as a result of advice notices the utilities were required to file. The notices inform community members and potential developers about the procedures necessary to get a community solar project going. 

Community solar projects are arrays that produce electricity utility customers can purchase through a subscription process. This allows people who cannot afford or get solar power like low-income homeowners as well as renters and apartment dwellers to benefit from clean, affordable solar. The utility takes the solar from the array and delivers it to the subscribers within their territory. The subscribers then benefit from a bill credit, which will be calculated on a per kilowatt hour basis.

NM Environment Review: Methane plume discovered near Carlsbad

This is our weekly Environment newsletter. You can sign up for the free email, which comes out every Thursday, here. Hello everyone,

Before I dig into the news, I would like to remind everyone that Election Day is Tuesday. The results of the election could have major implications for the energy transition as well as current priorities such as the 30 x 30 initiative. Polls close at 7 p.m. and if you are in line when they close you will be allowed to cast your ballot. 

Moving on to the energy sector, a new NASA discovery sheds light on methane pollution in New Mexico as the state works to cut emissions.  

Earlier this year, two New Mexico regulatory bodies adopted rules to address emissions from oil and gas infrastructure.

NM Supreme Court presses pause on rate credits for PNM customers

Customers of the state’s largest electric utility will continue paying the same rate they were paying when the San Juan Generating Station was operating—at least for now. Earlier this year, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission ordered Public Service Company of New Mexico to issue rate credits to prevent customers from paying for the operations of a now-closed coal-fired power plant that customers no longer benefit from. PNM promptly appealed this order to the New Mexico Supreme Court and asked the court to stay the implementation of the rate credits until after the case is resolved. On Tuesday, the court granted this stay. That means customers will only see the rate credits if the state Supreme Court rules in favor of the state regulatory commission. 

Mariel Nanasi, the executive director of New Energy Economy and one of PNM’s more vocal critics, expressed disappointment with Tuesday’s decision.

Enchant Energy’s San Juan project at center of debate around new carbon dioxide rules

Enchant Energy will have to comply with new carbon dioxide emission limits should it successfully acquire the rights to own and operate the San Juan Generating Station. The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board approved a new carbon dioxide emission rule for coal-fired power plants on Friday that will go into effect Jan. 1. The decision came after two days of hearings in Farmington that led to several changes to the draft rule proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department. The carbon dioxide rulemaking came as a result of the Energy Transition Act, which limits carbon dioxide emissions to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour after Jan.

Legislator: Ute Lake pipeline could be a model for the rest of the state

Progress is continuing on a pipeline to take water from Ute Lake to communities in eastern New Mexico and officials say completion cannot come soon enough as residents of areas like Texico are seeing wells go dry. Orlando Ortega, the administrator of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority (ENMWUA), presented updates to the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee on Tuesday. State Rep. Susan Herrera, a Democrat from Embudo, said the project could be a model for other rural areas of the state that are facing similar challenges with dwindling water supplies. Herrera’s district in north central New Mexico is also a rural area where wells are running dry. The eastern part of New Mexico, including areas like Clovis, currently relies on the Ogallala Aquifer for water.

Oil company to invest $5.5 million in emission prevention following settlement

A major oil and gas producer in the Permian Basin reached a settlement with an environmental advocacy group over emissions at one of the company’s extraction facilities located near Carlsbad. WildEarth Guardians alleged that Occidental Petroleum Company subsidiaries violated Clean Air Act requirements at the Turkey Track Central Tank Battery and Gas Sales Compression Facility in Eddy County. The company agreed to install emission control technology at the Turkey Track site and will invest $5.5 million in reducing emissions at facilities in southeast New Mexico. The company also agreed to pay $500,000 in civil penalties to the U.S. Treasury and $500,000 to support air quality and public health projects in southeast New Mexico. “Today’s agreement is a major step forward for accountability to clean air and public health in New Mexico,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release.  “We’re pleased that Oxy has agreed to make these major operational changes and resolve excess emissions.

Agreement may resolve Rio Grande water dispute

After nine years of litigation, the states of Texas, New Mexico and Colorado have reached an agreement that could resolve the dispute over Rio Grande water, though a major stumbling block remains. This comes after Texas sued New Mexico in 2013, arguing that the use of groundwater meant that Texas was not getting its fair share of the water from the Rio Grande. This groundwater use is occurring in a section between Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico and Hudspeth County, Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court appointed a special master in 2014 to oversee the case.Tuesday’s announcement comes as part of a status conference and the three states hinted at the possibility in a filing made on Monday. In a Tuesday press release, the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General stated that if finalized the agreement will resolve the legal dispute between the states.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces lawsuit over lesser prairie chicken

An environmental advocacy group filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the agency has failed to protect the lesser prairie chicken. The Center for Biological Diversity says a final decision in a 2021 proposal to add populations of the bird in New Mexico and Texas to the endangered species list is now five months overdue. 

The proposal calls for the southern population that lives in New Mexico and Texas to be listed as endangered while the northern population in Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and part of Texas would be listed as threatened. Tuesday’s filing comes after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of its intent to sue in August. “It’s haunting to think that videos of the lesser prairie chicken’s intricate dance may be all that’s left for future generations if these fascinating birds don’t get the protections they’ve been promised,” Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “The oil and gas industry has fought for decades against safeguards for the lesser prairie chicken, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is late issuing its final rule.

New Mexicans can apply for tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades

A new website allows residents who have invested in energy efficiency upgrades for their homes or businesses to apply for tax credits. 

The state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s Energy Conservation and Management Division announced the website’s launch on Monday. In 2020, the state legislature passed legislation that updated the sustainable building tax credits. The amendments included increased tax credits for low-income residents or landlords that offer affordable housing for upgrades that reduce energy consumption, which can lead to lower utility bills. 

Low-income residents or upgrades to affordable housing are eligible for larger tax credits. For example, an air-source heat pump installed by a low-income household is eligible for $2,000 of tax credits compared to $1,000 if it is installed at a house that doesn’t meet those low-income requirements. The tax credits are available for projects like heat pumps, energy-efficient windows and doors, high-quality insulation and charging equipment for electric vehicles.