Landmark energy bill sent to governor for expected approval
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Landmark legislation mandating that New Mexico get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045 cleared its last hurdle Tuesday and is expected to be signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
She has been advocating for the measure, saying it marks a significant step toward shifting the state’s energy landscape.
The Democratic-led House voted 43-22 following a lengthy debate that centered on the consequences of shutting a coal-fired power plant that has been a major economic driver for decades.
The measure sets aggressive quotas for renewable energy production and would establish funds to ease the economic pains of closing the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.
Republican lawmakers from the area warned that close to $80 million in annual wages and benefits will be lost once the San Juan plant and an adjacent mine are closed in 2022. They say Native Americans make up two-fifths of the workforce.
House GOP Whip Rod Montoya said more than 1,000 families in San Juan County stand to lose their livelihoods.
“That’s what we’re losing so it’s very disconcerting that in putting this package together the folks who are directly affected had nothing to do with this legislation,” Montoya said.
Supporters of the legislation argue that the closure of the plant was put in motion almost two years ago, as Public Service Co. of New Mexico — the state’s largest electric utility and the plant’s operator — announced plans for divesting in coal-fired generation.
Regulatory and market pressures have pushed many utilities across the U.S. to move away from fossil fuels. Public Service Co. of New Mexico is no exception, and utility executives have said that despite the legislation, they already are on a path that would boost the percentages of renewable and carbon-free energy sources within their portfolio.
Aside from establishing the renewable energy mandates, the legislation allows Public Service Co. of New Mexico and other owners of the San Juan Generating Station to recover investments in the coal-fired plant by selling bonds that are later paid off by utility customers.
Critics describe the legislation as a boon for the utility.
Democratic Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces argued that bonds financed at lower interest rates would result in savings for utility customers over the long-term. He also pointed to funding that would go toward severance packages for displaced workers and job training programs.
Small and others expect that decommissioning of the plant and reclamation of the mine will results in jobs, as would the construction of a replacement power plant in the area.
Public Service Co. of New Mexico plans to replace the electricity lost by the closure of the San Juan plant with a mix of natural gas, solar panels, wind turbines and nuclear power.
Under the legislation, PNM and other public utilities will have to get at least half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. That would jump to 80 percent by 2040.
The 100 percent carbon-free mandate would kick in five years later. Electric co-ops that provide power to more rural areas of the expansive and sparsely populated state would have until 2050 to meet that goal.