El Paso Electric, community advocates reach agreement regarding Newman Unit 6

An agreement between El Paso Electric and community advocates may lead to cleaner air in the southern part of New Mexico while allowing the utility to construct a new unit at a natural gas generating facility in west Texas. 

The settlement agreement between the utility and the Chaparral Community Coalition for Health and the Environment as well as the Sierra Club comes as EPE seeks an air permit to construct Unit 6 at the Newman Generating Station, which is a natural gas power plant located in Texas near the New Mexico state line. “The permit will authorize EPE to begin construction of the state-of-the-art 228 megawatt natural gas replacement unit necessary to meet our customers’ growing energy needs,” EPE said in a statement. “Newman Unit 6 will allow for the inevitable decommissioning of older generating units.”

The Chaparral Community Coalition for Health and the Environment and the Sierra Club opposed the construction of Unit 6, but have agreed to withdraw their legal challenge of the air permit following the agreement. “We do not want Newman 6. But if it’s going to be built anyway, it’s better built with this settlement than without it,” said former Doña Ana County Commissioner David Garcia, a Chaparral resident, in a press release.

PRC rushes to approve solar project

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A hearing for a proposed community solar project near Las Cruces is scheduled for next month, even after El Paso Electric attempted to withdraw its proposal. New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission has put the hearing on its calendar, despite opponents’ successfully arguing that the original proposal showed favoritism to the utility company over independent solar contractors. Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the group New Energy Economy, said when utilities are given an automatic advantage by the PRC, customers don’t get the lowest price for solar energy. “The law is, you’re supposed to get the most cost-effective among feasible alternatives,” Nanasi explained. “Well, one of the other alternatives is to allow independent power producers to compete against the utility – and when they do, they’re often much cheaper.”

NM renewable energy group awaits conflict-of-interest decision

SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico needs more affordable solar, but a renewable energy group says two members of the Public Regulation Commission have a conflict of interest and should not be allowed to participate in the decision. Mariel Nanasi, an attorney with New Energy Economy, says commissioners Sandy Jones and Lynda Lovejoy should not vote on a PRC solar contract decision because they’re up for re-election and they received campaign contributions from the company. The PRC will decide on an application by El Paso Electric to purchase a $4.5 million solar farm to be built by Affordable Solar. The company’s registered lobbyist is also the campaign consultant for Jones’ and Lovejoy’s re-election bids. Nanasi maintains the two commissioners should recuse themselves from the decision.

Industry comes out in force, committee kills energy surtax for early childhood ed funding

On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.