PRC defends discussions, decision to request the NM Supreme Court send utility merger case back commission

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission defended its past closed session discussions about a proposed utility merger and its decision to ask the state Supreme Court to send the case back to the commission during its Wednesday meeting. This came after nearly two dozen New Mexicans criticized the commission’s actions. A total of 25 people signed up for public comment during Wednesday’s PRC meeting, though not all of them spoke. The outrage started in March when the PRC joined the Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid in filing a motion before the New Mexico Supreme Court asking the court to remand a merger application case to the commission. Merger opponents saw this as a “behind-closed-doors” decision that could have broad reaching consequences.

NM Supreme Court hears arguments in Four Corners ownership transfer case

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.

San Juan County approves PNM’s demolition plans for coal-fired plant

The San Juan County Commission unanimously approved a plan submitted by the Public Service Company of New Mexico for demolition and remediation of the San Juan Generating Station on Tuesday. The coal-fired power plant closed in September and a county ordinance required PNM to submit the plans for commission approval. That ordinance was passed in 2021 after PNM had announced that it would be closing the power plant. There were concerns at the time that the power plant could be allowed to remain standing for decades to come. PNM had indicated to state regulators that it intended to retire the power plant in place, meaning that it would do some work to make sure the structure was safe but would not tear it down until a later date.

Delays in ETA funding left some laid-off workers ineligible for assistance

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.

Investor-owned utilities prepare for summer load

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission utility division director said he doesn’t think there will be power shortages this summer despite delays in projects to replace the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station that closed last fall. The new commission heard updates on resource adequacy, particularly related to the Public Service Company of New Mexico, on Thursday. Most of the discussion focused on PNM, but the two other investor-owned utilities were also discussed. “The IOUs have adequate resource plans for summer 2023,” Ed Rilkoff, the utility division director, told commissioners. El Paso Electric is looking at 40 megawatts of additional purchases for the summer and Southwest Public Service is in good shape going into the summer, Rilkoff said

The Public Service Company of New Mexico is entering into short-term purchase power agreements to ensure there is enough electricity this summer.

Displaced coal miners, power plant workers ask for help with health insurance

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.

State’s largest electric utility seeks new generation sources amid energy transition

As New Mexico works to transition to clean energy, the largest electric utility in the state issued a new request for proposals, or RFP. This RFP asks developers to propose projects that could help the Public Service Company of New Mexico meet increasing demands for energy. 

Nicholas Philips, PNM’s director of integrated resource planning, spoke with NM Political Report about the RFP on Monday. PNM will evaluate various factors in the RFP and the utility is looking for projects that can come online in 2026, 2027 or 2028. Philips said PNM’s economic development department is inundated with requests from businesses that have either not operated within PNM’s service territory or have not operated in New Mexico and are now exploring expanding their operations and opening locations within the PNM service territory. Another factor is the possibility that PNM could stop receiving power from the Four Corners Power Plant. 

Last year, state regulators denied PNM’s application to transfer its ownership shares of the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant to Navajo Transitional Energy Company.

NM Supreme Court presses pause on rate credits for PNM customers

Customers of the state’s largest electric utility will continue paying the same rate they were paying when the San Juan Generating Station was operating—at least for now. Earlier this year, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission ordered Public Service Company of New Mexico to issue rate credits to prevent customers from paying for the operations of a now-closed coal-fired power plant that customers no longer benefit from. PNM promptly appealed this order to the New Mexico Supreme Court and asked the court to stay the implementation of the rate credits until after the case is resolved. On Tuesday, the court granted this stay. That means customers will only see the rate credits if the state Supreme Court rules in favor of the state regulatory commission. 

Mariel Nanasi, the executive director of New Energy Economy and one of PNM’s more vocal critics, expressed disappointment with Tuesday’s decision.

Rising costs, delays continue to impact projects to replace San Juan Generating Station

The costs of replacing the electricity that Public Service Company of New Mexico will pay has increased and solar projects have been delayed. On Friday, PNM asked the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to approve amendments to the San Juan Solar project’s power purchase agreement and energy storage agreement. These amendments include both a new completion date and new price with project developer D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments, or DESRI. Commissioners approved on order on a 4-1 vote on Wednesday allows for a hearing should any of the intervenors file an objection. Because of the time constraints, objections must be filed by noon this Friday.

Looking back at the San Juan Generating Station and those who fought against it

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.