Cause of San Juan Generating Station cooling tower collapse remains unknown

While the cause of the collapse of a cooling tower at unit one of the San Juan Generating Station has not yet been identified, Public Service Company of New Mexico has provided the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission with some more information regarding the event. Following the collapse, the PRC issued a notice of inquiry into the incident, which occurred in late June, and opened a docket. PNM filed a response to questions raised in the notice of inquiry on Aug. 16 and the commission discussed the response during the weekly meeting on Wednesday. In its response, PNM stated that the cause of the collapse has not yet been identified.

Critics say PNM, Avangrid merger could hurt ratepayers, environment

Government entities, utilities and watchdog groups say a merger between Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid could harm both ratepayers and the environment unless protections are included. These entities filed testimony in a New Mexico Public Regulation Commission case evaluating the merger. This merger is subject to the PRC approval as well as approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. PNM’s parent company, PNM Resources, is seeking to merge with Avangrid, a U.S. subsidiary of renewable energy giant Iberdrola, which is based in Spain. The PRC hearings related to the merger are scheduled to start on May 3 and testimony has been filed expressing a variety of concerns.

PRC orders PNM to address past use of Palo Verde as it seeks to end its leases at the facility

State regulators asked the state’s largest utility to defend a past decision to continue leasing shares of a nuclear power plant as it now asks regulators to approve replacing that electricity with renewable sources. Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) has filed to replace the energy it gets from leased shares of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station with renewable sources. The filing came earlier this month and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission issued an order beginning the process, which was unanimously approved on April 21. The order requires PNM to file additional testimony regarding unresolved issues from a 2015 case. These unresolved issues are about a decision to acquire additional leases and extend its leases in the Palo Verde facility.

PNM’s plans for the future include reduced baseload power and increased renewable energy

New Mexico’s largest electric utility is planning to reduce its baseload power while increasing power generated by renewable sources and possibly adding natural gas generation with turbines capable of producing power from hydrogen.

Baseload generation provides a relatively steady supply of power. Currently, Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, relies on coal-fired power plants and a nuclear generating station to provide baseload power. The company filed a 2020 integrated resource plan with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission in January and is awaiting approval includes exiting coal in 2024 and reducing its capacity in Palo Verde Generating Station, which provides nuclear power. 

An integrated resource plan is essentially a roadmap looking at where the utility wants to be in the future. 

While the plans provide a roadmap for going forward, they are not a set-in-stone path. PNM’s 2014 integrated resource plan indicated the San Juan Generating Station would remain operating until 2053. Three years later, the utility announced that it would close the coal-fired power plant in 2022.

PNM wants customers to pay $300m to exit a coal plant

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.

Natural gas will play a big role in state’s energy transition

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.

NM Environment Review: What do the Rio Grande, Mike Pompeo & student climate activists have in common?

What do they all have in common? Well, they’re smashed into a really full NM Environment Review. So grab a snack and strap on your reading glasses. There is a ton of environmental news this week. Usually, only email subscribers get to read the entire review, but we’re feeling generous this week.

Major shift to renewable energy advances in Senate

Backers of the controversial Energy Transition Act — which is meant to ensure the shuttering of a massive coal-burning power plant in San Juan County and push New Mexico toward more reliance on renewable energy — won a victory Saturday when a state Senate committee gave it a positive recommendation following a four-hour debate. The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-3 to give Senate Bill 489 a “do-pass” recommendation. Last year, the same committee killed a similar proposal. “This transition to renewable energy will not be easy,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque. A major purpose of the legislation, he said, is “to lay out a just transition for impacted communities to move away from coal and towards a green energy economy.”

As NM’s water situation worsens, SCOTUS battle over the Rio Grande intensifies

Last winter, snows didn’t come to the mountains, and the headwaters of the Rio Grande suffered from drought. In April, the river—New Mexico’s largest—was already drying south of Socorro. And over the summer, reservoir levels plummeted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court battle between Texas, New Mexico and the U.S. government over the waters of the Rio Grande marches onward. At a meeting at the end of August, the special master assigned to the case by the Supreme Court set some new deadlines: The discovery period will close in the summer of 2020 and the case will go to trial no later than that fall.

Proposed law on power plant closings draws critics

A bill aimed at easing economic woes of New Mexico communities hit by the closing of large power plants might make it harder to shut down coal-burning operations, some environmentalists said Friday. House Bill 325, introduced this week by House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, would require the state Public Regulation Commission to consider the economic effects on communities when deciding cases involving the shuttering of large power sources such as the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico. The bill — which is scheduled to be heard Saturday by the House Judiciary Committee — also would require a utility to build any replacement power source in the same community as the facility it plans to close. “My bill is about trying to help my community,” Montoya said Friday. He said that about 45 percent of local tax revenue used by the school district in Kirtland comes from the power plant, while another 8 percent comes from the nearby San Juan coal mine.