The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s appeal of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission’s rejection of an application to transfer the utility’s share of the Four Corners Power Plant to Navajo Transitional Energy Company.
The PRC rejected the utility’s request to transfer its ownership shares in the Four Corners Power Plant in 2021, going against the recommendation of the hearing examiner to approve the application. Related: PRC denies PNM’s application to transfer power plant ownership to NTEC
The arguments focused on whether PNM had met requirements for presenting options for replacing the power generated by the coal-fired power plant. PNM’s attorney, Richard Alvidrez, argued that the utility had presented models for replacing the electricity from the Four Corners Power Plant, but Carolyn Glick, representing the PRC, described those models as hypotheticals that were not enough to convince the commission that there would be adequate power to meet customer energy demands.
Alvidrez argued that models have been allowed in the past, but Glick said that supply chain challenges had delayed the replacement resources for the San Juan Generating Station and that contributed to the PRC wanting more detailed information about replacement resources for the Four Corners Power Plant. “The commission has a duty to keep the lights on,” she said. She said the details that PNM provided about replacement resources for Four Corners were vague and did not even include how much of each type of replacement generation source PNM planned to use.
While environmental advocacy groups are concerned that transferring Public Service Company of New Mexico’s 13 percent ownership share in the Four Corners Power Plant to Navajo Transitional Energy Company will lead to continued or increased emissions, a hearing examiner for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission recommended last week that the state regulators approve that transfer. The hearing examiner, Anthony Medeiros, recommended that the state regulators approve PNM’s application to transfer its shares in the coal-fired power plant to NTEC in 2024. About a year ago, PNM announced the plans to sell its 13 percent share to NTEC, a Navajo Nation enterprise, for $1 and to pay NTEC $75 million to assume its obligations under the coal supply agreement. The PNM shareholders are paying the $75 million. PNM claims that transferring its ownership shares to NTEC will save customers $30 million to $300 million.
A bill scheduled to come before the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday has some environmental groups and the state’s largest electric utility facing off over financing the retirement of a coal-fired power plant. If passed, the bill would create a bond financing mechanism allowing Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, to recover “stranded” costs associated with its planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington. The bill would allow the utility to form a subsidiary that could issue low-interest “energy redevelopment bonds” and recover more than $300 million. Senate Bill 47 is sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an attorney, and Republican Sen. Steven Neville, a real estate appraiser from Aztec. Its counterpart, House Bill 80, is also a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, and Republican Minority Whip Rod Montoya, a miner from Farmington.
The Dakota Access Pipeline may be 1,000 miles away from the southwest, but issues raised at Standing Rock—related to energy development and Indian lands and rights—resonate here in New Mexico. “In the case of Standing Rock, I think it sent a very strong message about what we can do, what being involved in a community can do, and the pressure it can put on an agency,” said Theresa Pasqual, an archaeologist and former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office who now works as a consultant. “I hope that here in New Mexico, especially for people that have been following the Standing Rock tribe’s movement to protect its water and to protect its cultural resources, that they will take an interest in what happens here, but also say, ‘What can I do? What can I do to be engaged locally?’” Doing so, she said, can change the “course of conversation” around many of the energy issues that affect New Mexico’s tribes. Related: The launch of our new environmental beat
Indeed, New Mexico’s tribes have struggled with issues not unlike those raised in Standing Rock for a long time.