A bill that would expand the eligibility requirements for displaced workers to access Energy Transition Act funding passed the House of Representatives unanimously on Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk. The Energy Transition Act created three funds, including a displaced workers fund. This fund is intended to assist workers who lost their jobs as a result of the closure of the San Juan Generating Station and the San Juan Mine in northwest New Mexico. The 2019 law set a one-year time frame for people to seek assistance from the displaced workers fund. However, layoffs began in 2020 and the funding was not available until last summer.
When the Energy Transition Act passed in 2019, legislators thought that the funding for displaced workers would be available as the layoffs at the San Juan Generating Station and San Juan Mine occurred. However, this did not come into fruition. Layoffs began in 2020 and the state did not receive the funds from the Public Service Company of New Mexico until July 2022. Most workers at the power plant were laid off in 2022, but the funds have not been available even for those workers. Mine workers saw earlier layoffs than power plant workers as the generating station switched to stockpiled coal.
Unions representing San Juan Generating Station and San Juan Mine employees asked the state for about $6 million in energy transition funds to reimburse displaced workers for the out-of-pocket health insurance costs they have faced since being laid off. The funds would come from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. This is especially important for the mine workers who lost health insurance at the end of the month that they were laid off. Power plant workers, on the other hand, have six months of health insurance following layoffs. Layoffs at the mine began last year as the facilities prepared to close.
Climate change isn’t in the future for New Mexico—it’s already here and impacting families of color, according to climate change experts. From Navajo leaving their land due to dwindling resources, hotter wildfires altering landscapes, an increase of climate change refugees crossing outside ports of entry and wells running dry in rural areas, families of color in New Mexico are already feeling the heat from climate change, various sources told NM Political Report. Joan Brown, executive director of climate justice organization New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said it’s hard to not feel “immobilized” by the immensity of the problem. “Climate change is touching into every aspect of life and all of our neighbors’ lives,” she said. According to a Yale Project on Climate Change and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication report, communities of color are likely to disproportionately feel climate change more than white communities due to socioeconomic inequities.
As the northwest corner of New Mexico prepares for the closure of the San Juan Generating Station, at least one proposed project to help displaced workers could lead to increased natural gas extraction. Last year, the Energy Transition Act committee sent out a request for information on projects that could be funded through the portions of bonds that could be set aside for economic diversification, workforce training and assisting the Navajo Nation. This resulted in more than two dozen proposals, however the funding is not yet available due to a lawsuit that has postponed the sale of low-interest bonds.
The lawsuit in the New Mexico Supreme Court argues that shareholders should bear more of the costs of closing the power plant instead of ratepayers, who currently will pay for the bonds through a non-bypassable charge on their bills. The bonds will be sold by Public Service Company of New Mexico, the primary owner of the San Juan Generating Station, and will use $360 million of bonds to refinance past investments into the power plant and about $20 million of that money will be used to assist the communities impacted by the closure.
Jason Sandel, a convener for the ETA committee, said there will be a meeting this summer to discuss the proposed projects. A full list of projects submitted for funding consideration and details about each of the projects can be found at dws.nm.state.us/ETA.
In November 2020, PNM announced it would leave the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant by the end of 2024, seven years earlier than planned. The accelerated exit will bring an end to PNM’s coal assets in New Mexico two decades ahead of the clean energy mandate set forth in the state’s Energy Transition Act of 2019.
Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM Resources’ chairman, president and CEO, said at the time the move was “a major step in our vision to create a clean and bright energy future and achieve our industry-leading goal of emissions-free energy by 2040.”
PNM currently owns 13 percent of the plant’s two operating units, representing 200 megawatts (MW) worth of energy generation. PNM is also engaged in a coal supply contract with the Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC). PNM had initially planned to exit the facility in 2031, when its coal supply contract ends. Instead, PNM and NTEC have reached an agreement through which PNM will pay $75 million to NTEC to end its coal contract by December 31, 2024 and then transfer its ownership of the plant to NTEC for $1.
PNM filed its abandonment and securitization application for the plant with the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) earlier this month.
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.
BLOOMFIELD, NM — Leaning against the wall in a corner of Geneva Griego’s white-paneled living room is a bag of coal. Like many people who live in the Farmington area —part of the coal-rich Four Corners region where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet — her family relies on a mixture of coal and wood to heat their home. A few feet away, in the kitchen, her 19-year-old daughter Sharon tosses a scoop into the wood stove and closes the small glass door. For almost 50 years, coal has fueled not only homes in this region but also much of its economy. And the Griego family’s fortunes have been intertwined with coal almost from the beginning.
The New Mexico Supreme Court put to rest some of the on-going drama about Public Service of New Mexico’s (PNM) plans for closing down the San Juan Generating Station. The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) must apply the Energy Transition Act (ETA) to PNM’s case for shuttering the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, granting a writ of mandamus requested by a group of stakeholders, including Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, Senator Jacob Candelaria, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and others. A writ of mandamus is an order from a court to a subordinate government body or lower court to fulfill official duties required by law or correct an abuse of discretion. In December 2019, Lujan Grisham and others asked the court to force the PRC to apply the ETA to the San Juan Generating Station case. The decision comes after six months of back-and-forth between the PRC and investor-owned PNM on the applicability of the ETA on PNM’s plans for phasing out its coal-based energy generation.
Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would dramatically alter the structure of the state’s Public Regulation Commission, shifting nearly every division currently under its authority to a department within the governor’s administration. Although the PRC is a state commission, it is an entity not under the control of the state’s governor. Legislation proposed by state Reps. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, would change that, and comes amid frustration from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and some lawmakers over disagreement with the PRC on whether the Energy Transition Act applies to plans from the state’s largest utility to abandon and recover investments into a coal-fired power plant near Farmington. The energy act, signed into law by the governor in 2019, would allow Public Service Company of New Mexico to recover investment costs sunk into the San Juan Generating Station and requires the state to shift to zero-carbon electricity production by 2045.