It was July 1, 1969. Representatives of Public Service Company of New Mexico and Tucson Gas and Electric signed an agreement to partner on the San Juan Generating Station. The first unit would be 330 megawatts and the two entities would evenly share the ownership and power generated. More than half a century later, the power plant they agreed to build is shutting down this week and for many of the activists who have fought against the coal-fired facility the moment feels a bit bittersweet. While they are excited to see the power plant that has emitted pollutants close, they say their work is not yet over.
A petition filed this week in the New Mexico Supreme Court challenges a constitutional amendment that made sweeping changes to the state Public Regulation Commission.
The amendment, approved by voters in 2020, reduced the number of commissioners on the Public Regulation Commission and transformed it from an elected body to one with members appointed by the governor, effective Jan. 1, 2023. Three Indigenous nonprofits led by women—Indigenous Lifeways, New Mexico Social Justice & Equity Institute and Three Sisters Collective—filed the petition on Sept. 12. They claimed that the ballot language in the 2020 election when voters approved the constitutional amendment wasn’t adequate to inform voters about what would happen if it was approved.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking on Wednesday in hopes of finalizing the agency’s transportation electrification rule by the end of the year. This rule is intended to work hand in hand with the investor-owned utilities’ transportation electrification plans that the state regulators have already approved. It comes following lengthy pre-rulemaking stakeholder engagement, an effort that was spearheaded by Commissioner Joseph Maestas. That engagement included a statewide summit earlier this year, hosted by the consulting and engineering firm Gridworks. “This is a really important step for the entire state as transportation is the number two source of carbon emissions and state agencies and private entities are going to have to work hand and hand to transition New Mexico and its infrastructure toward a cleaner running, more sustainable future,” Maestas said.
Rulemaking processes can be lengthy, but PRC General Counsel Russel Fisk said that the transportation electrification rule is not as complicated as some other rules the PRC has recently finalized, such as the community solar rules.
After telling the Public Service Company of New Mexico to issue rate credits so that customers are not paying for a coal plant that is being retired, state regulators are now requesting proof that the utility has done so. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved an order asking PNM to show that it has complied with its order.
The rate credits should have started this month and will appear on customers’ electricity bills. They should be retroactive to July 1. For now, the average residential customer should see a $1.76 rate credit to reflect that unit one of the San Juan Generating Station is no longer in use. Starting in October, the rate credit will increase to $8.19 for residential customers after unit four, the last operating unit at the power plant, is retired.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission denied Southwestern Public Service Company’s request to delay implementing the community solar program while the state Supreme Court weighs an appeal. SPS appealed the PRC’s final ruling in the community solar case in July, which some community solar proponents see as an attempt to stall. In its appeal, SPS argued that the rule does not adequately protect customers. Community solar allows people to receive electricity from small arrays. This is intended to benefit people who cannot afford solar panels for their homes or who rent or live in an apartment where they are not authorized to install solar.
Asan increasing number of people install solar panels on their houses or make energy efficiency upgrades, the amount of electricity utilities sell may go down. This can impact the utility’s revenue streams, even as costs of maintaining and upgrading infrastructure remain. One way to address this is known as decoupling and the state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, argued that a 2019 amendment to the state’s Efficient Use of Energy Act requires the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to approve applications for full decoupling. Decoupling is essentially a mechanism that removes the incentive for a utility to sell as much electricity as possible by reducing or eliminating the need to sell a certain amount of power to cover the fixed costs like maintenance and upgrades. During its Wednesday meeting, the commission unanimously rejected PNM’s argument, instead adopting a decision recommended by Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved an order on Wednesday adopting a rule for community solar. The rulemaking process began following the passage of the Community Solar Act last year, which set a deadline of April 1 for the PRC to adopt rules. Community solar allows for developers to build small arrays to provide solar energy to subscribers who might otherwise not have access to renewable energy.
After Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law last year, the PRC formed an action team that provided input on the provisions of the rule prior to adoption. An ad-hoc group led by the Coalition for Community Solar Access also provided input after hosting a series of meetings discussing topics like scoring criteria and minimum bid requirements. The ad-hoc group was not sanctioned by the PRC, but allowed the groups to align their positions in the formal comments that were submitted to the PRC during the process.
Arizona regulators have asked the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for input during policy discussions about coal-impacted communities, PRC Utility Division Director John Reynolds told commissioners during a Tuesday meeting. Arizona utilities, including Arizona Public Service Company and Tucson Electric Power, have received power from coal-fired generating stations in northwest New Mexico. As the coal-fired power plants in both New Mexico and Arizona are preparing for closures, the Arizona Corporation Commission is looking at the economic impacts those closures will have on the communities where the plants are located. Reynolds said the ACC’s utility division reached out to the PRC and asked if PRC representatives could attend policy task force discussions starting this week. Reynolds said he plans to attend those meetings and he will be reporting back to the New Mexico regulatory commission.
Reynolds said Arizona’s regulatory commission has more of a “blank slate” than the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission had when considering the closure of the San Juan Generating Station.
Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) plans to continue operations of unit four of the San Juan Generating Station through Sept. 30 to avoid power shortages this summer. The state’s largest utility announced its plans on Thursday and is seeking approval from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. In an interview with NM Political Report, Vice President of Generation Tom Fallgren said PNM needs the PRC’s approval by March 25 to provide adequate notice to Westmoreland Coal Company, the owner of the San Juan Mine, which provides the power plant with coal. If the extension is not approved, mining at the San Juan Mine will end March 26.
As utilities race to meet renewable energy targets set forth in the Energy Transition Act, two of the state’s investor-owned utilities have asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to review decisions the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has made in cases that they say will impact their transition. The Public Service Company of New Mexico appealed the final orders in both the Four Corners Power Plant ownership transfer and the Avangrid merger. Southwestern Public Service Company appealed the final order in its renewable portfolio standard case in which the PRC rejected its request for a financial incentive to retire renewable energy certificates early so that it could reach renewable energy targets early. PNM filed the appeal on the Four Corners Power Plant transfer on Dec. 22.