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.

Campaign pushing to change PRC

Some elections can devolve into popularity contests. But one issue on the ballot in New Mexico will be whether or not one of the state’s key regulatory bodies should be made up of elected or appointed officials. 

Currently, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is made up of five elected officials, each representing their own area of New Mexico. But voters will have the chance to decide whether or not to change the state’s constitution and make the commission a three-member body, with commissioners appointed by the governor. 

At least one mailer sent out to voters does not seem to explicitly advocate for one side or another, but does frame the issue as professionals versus politicians. 

“Look for constitutional amendment #1 on your ballot in the fall!” the mailer reads. 

It also compares health experts guiding Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic and states that the amendment “would require real experts with defined credentials to oversee our utilities, and these professionals would be prohibited from having any financial interest in any public utility.”

The PRC, which is independent from the governor’s office and the legislature, has been the target of scrutiny from other elected officials for years, and even more so since the Legislature passed what is now known as the Energy Transition Act, a step away from the state’s reliance on coal powered energy. 

The mailer that rhetorically asks voters, “qualified professionals or politicians?” was paid for by a group called Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers. The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office does not have a record of such a group registering as a political committee, but a spokesman for the office said the next deadline for groups to register is not until October. 

Bob Perls, a former New Mexico lawmaker and sponsor of a 1996 constitutional amendment  that created the PRC, said he thinks the push to change how the commission is made up was not well thought out. Like all New Mexico constitutional amendments, this one started as legislation.

Voters could convert PRC to appointed body

Next year could be the last time New Mexicans find any candidates for the long-troubled Public Regulation Commission listed on election ballots if voters approve a proposed constitutional amendment that sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support. On Thursday the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would turn the Public Regulation Commission — which currently consists of five elected members representing different geographical districts — into a three member body whose members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, passed the House by a vote of 59-8. It previously cleared the Senate by a 36-5 vote. Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 1 does not need the governor’s signature.