State agency questions procurement process in energy transition funding requests

Questions about the request for proposals process have delayed the allocation of energy transition funds to projects selected by a state agency, Indian Affairs Department Secretary Designee James Mountain said during an Indian Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday. Mountain said it is prudent and his responsibility to check and see if the process was done correctly. He said his department has questioned whether the awards followed the state procurement code in terms of the request for proposals process. Mountain said the procurement process and codes that the Indian Affairs Department must follow are different from the requirements for the other state agencies that are overseeing energy transition funding. “We’re hoping to get these funds out expeditiously,” he said.

PNM reaches settlement agreement in San Juan rate credits case

The Public Service Company of New Mexico announced on Friday that it reached a settlement agreement with state regulators and advocacy groups regarding rate credits associated with closing the San Juan Generating Station. The agreement calls for PNM customers to receive $115 million in bill credits over a one-year period of time. This will result in an average credit of $9.28 per month for residential customers, which the utility says is about 11 percent of the average bill. 

According to the press release, the customer credits come from PNM earnings. The customer rates will not be used to pay any part of the credit. 

Customers must also be protected from increasing interest rates on the securitization bonds that PNM is using to refinance past investments in the coal-fired power plants. The agreement is still pending approval from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

State agencies begin distributing energy transition funds

State agencies are continuing to work to distribute funds made available through the Energy Transition Act to communities and workers impacted by the closure of the San Juan Generating Station. Officials from the New Mexico Economic Development Department, the Department of Workforce Solutions and the Indian Affairs Department presented updates on the expenditures to the Legislative Finance Committee on Tuesday. Some committee members including Farmington Senators William Sharer and Steve Neville, both Republicans, questioned the speed at which the funding was made available. The transition funds did not begin to enter the community until nearly a year after the power plant closed. 

This was because those funds were not state money, but rather came from the sale of low-interest bonds to refinance the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s past investments into the coal-fired power plant. PNM provided the money to the state a short time before the plant closed.

PNM takes steps to demolish the San Juan Generating Station

Steps are underway to demolish the San Juan Generating Station in northwest New Mexico. The coal-fired power plant closed last year and Laura Sanchez, executive director of government and public affairs for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, says the utility recently identified a demolition contractor who will oversee the work. 

Sanchez presented details to the Legislative Finance Committee on Tuesday about the power plant and the projects that are underway to replace the electricity the state’s largest utility received from it. Now that a contractor has been identified, the process of demolishing the plant can begin, she said. PNM expects that the coal stacks will be demolished in 2024. It will take another year to complete the demolition.

PNM transfers reservoir to Reclamation for Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project

Gallup Mayor Louis Bonaguidi was serving on city council in 1988 when a geologist the city hired to evaluate its water supplies informed Gallup that it would run out of water within a matter of decades. 

It didn’t take long for the city to discover that its neighbor, the Navajo Nation, was also looking for ways to increase access to water. 

On Friday, the city and Nation got one step closer to achieving a reliable water supply that will serve more than 250,000 people on Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and in the Gallup area. The Public Service Company of New Mexico handed over the virtual keys–as company president and Chief Operating Officer Don Tarry called it–to the reservoir that once provided water from the San Juan River for San Juan Generating Station operations to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for use in the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. “There is a significant connection between energy and water,” Tarry said, explaining that the coal-fired power plant that ceased operations last fall required a large amount of water. 

Bart Deming is the construction engineer and manager for the BOR’s Four Corners Construction Office. He said when the supply project began, the plan was that there would be a direct intake off of the San Juan River. But turbidity concerns led to the planned intake being relocated to an area near Hogback where there could be turbidity control.

From left to right: Senate Floor Majority Leader Peter Wirth, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales at a press conference in the Governor's Office Cabinet Room March 18, 2023.

Legislative Recap: Bills signed and bills vetoed

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed 211 bills into law from the 2023 legislative session, which ended two weeks ago. The deadline to sign bills into law ended on Friday April 7. Some of these bills included highly-debated bills such as HB 547 which established tax code changes; HB 4 which codifies voter rights and protections including the addition of the Native American Voting Rights Act and HB 7 which provides protections for access to reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare Some additional bills include Bennie’s Bill, which makes a crime out of negligently providing a minor access to a firearm and HB 134 which provides menstrual products in school restrooms.

Other signed legislation included some environmentally-based bills including SB 72 which established a Wildlife Corridor Fund and SB 337 which established the Water Security Planning Act that authorizes the Interstate Stream Commission to issue funds via loans and grants to facilitate regional water planning. More: San Juan Generating Station, mine remediation bill heads to House floor

Lujan Grisham also signed another environmental bill,  HB 142 which requires the New Mexico Environment Department and the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to contract out a comprehensive study to determine the amount of environmental contamination to the lands and waters near the mine and generating facility. Other legislation she signed includes five new special license plates, SB 21 which prohibits prescribed burns on red flag days and SB 392 which establishes youth programs through the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Bill to address concerns about contamination at San Juan mine, generating station advances

A bill that would increase state oversight of the remediation of the San Juan Generating Station and the San Juan Mine passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 8-0 vote. HB 142 now heads to the Senate floor. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, said the bill is important to protect people, especially residents of Navajo Nation, from potential water contamination in the future. He highlighted the legacy of pollution that the Nation continues to face from industries that have left the communities including uranium mining operations. The power plant and coal mine closed last year and remediation efforts are underway at the mine. The San Juan County Commission earlier this week approved a plan to demolish the power plant and remediate the site.

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.

San Juan Generating Station, mine remediation bill heads to House floor

A bill focused on the cleanup of the San Juan Generating Station and the San Juan Mine passed the House Appropriation and Finance Committee on Wednesday without any opposition. HB 142, which is sponsored by Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, would require the New Mexico Environment Department and the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to contract for a study of the current conditions at the power plant and mine. The two agencies would use that study to develop a restoration and remediation plan for the facilities. “The purpose of this bill is prevention,” Allison said. 

Allison spoke of the legacy pollution impacting Navajo Nation, including abandoned uranium mines. The majority of people who would be impacted by potential contamination from the mine and power plant are residents of Navajo Nation.