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New Mexico utility says it will be emissions-free by 2040

April 23, 2019
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center right, and PNM Resources CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn, center left, celebrate after planting a tree for Earth Day in Albuquerque, N.M., on Monday, April 22, 2019. The two women gathered with dozens of other state, tribal and local officials to announce that PNM, New Mexico's largest electric provider, was setting a goal to be emissions-free by 2040. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s largest electric provider set a goal Monday aimed at going emissions-free as early as 2040, winning praise from the state’s top Democratic leaders and environmental groups that have been pushing for years to end the state’s reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico officials rolled out the plan during an Earth Day event in Albuquerque, saying it’s the first investor-owned utility in the United States to set such a goal.

The announcement came on the heels of the state’s approval of landmark legislation that sets ambitious new renewable energy goals. The measure requires that investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives get at least half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. That would jump to 80 percent by 2040.

A 100% carbon-free mandate would kick in five years later for utilities. Electric co-ops would have until 2050 to meet that goal.

PNM president and chief executive Pat Vincent-Collawn said the utility’s management team reviewed all the possible scenarios and realized they would be able to beat the state’s mandate without sacrificing reliability or hurting customers’ pocketbooks.

It’s a challenge that utilities across the nation are facing as more states look to boost their standards and impose environmental regulations that threaten to price coal and other fossil fuels out of consideration.

Governors in Wisconsin and Colorado have campaigned on renewable energy, while legislation calling for higher renewable energy quotas was introduced in Illinois and Minnesota.

In Nevada, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak on Monday signed a bill requiring electricity companies to get half of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the new legislation along with PNM’s commitment establishes a path for how lawmakers and business leaders can work together and that other states and countries have an opportunity to do the same.

The shift started to ramp up as low natural gas prices began to push coal out of the mix, Vincent-Collawn said. Then came technological advancements that resulted in lower costs for batteries and other storage options.

Vincent-Collawn said the question for customers always has been about cost, and most haven’t been willing to pay much more than they were already paying.

“Now, we have the perfect combination of prices, technology and customer desire all coming together at the same time and you have a state where everybody is willing to work together,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.

PNM officials offered a general roadmap Monday for how they plan to meet the 2040 goal. It includes divesting the utility completely from coal generation by 2031 with the shuttering of the San Juan Generating Station in northern New Mexico by 2022. The nearby Four Corners Power Plant would follow less than a decade later.

There are also plans to add another 140 megawatts of wind power to PNM’s portfolio, and they’re banking on technology improvements over the next 20 years that officials said would “fundamentally change the way we do business.”

Some environmentalists are cautiously awaiting formal proposals that will be presented later this year to state regulators.

The electricity that PNM gets from the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona will still be part of its emissions-free portfolio, officials said. PNM has just over 10% ownership in the plant.

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