New Mexico lawmakers seek compromise on coal, clean power
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers sought to speed up the transition to cleaner sources of electricity across New Mexico and phase out a major coal-fired power plant under legislation introduced Thursday.
The initiative, backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a coalition of environmental organizations, would help ensure the retirement of the San Juan Generating Station in northwest New Mexico by allowing owners such as Public Service Co. to recover some investments.
Utility customers would see a new “energy transition” charge on future electricity bills. The measure sets out a 2030 deadline for utilities and cooperatives to generate 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources.
Other provisions aim to offset the impact of the plant closure — and the likely shuttering of a companion coal mine — on the surrounding community and economy by providing subsidies for job training programs in San Juan County.
The legislation seeks to find new renewable energy projects near the San Juan plant and existing transmission infrastructure.
“It helps, I think, give a softer landing to San Juan County, both for the workers and the loss of tax revenue,” said Sanders Moore, executive director of Environment New Mexico.
Public Service Co., the state’s largest electricity provider and majority owner of the San Juan Generating Station, was studying the final version of the measure before commenting, a spokesman said. The plant has been scheduled for retirement in 2022, with financial decisions still pending before state regulators.
The investor-owned utility’s earlier legislative attempts to recover some assets in the plant had stalled. The new measure would take some decisions about cost recovery and replacement power away from the Public Regulation Commission.
Mariel Nanasi, director of New Energy Economy and a consumer advocate, said she was eager to scrutinize details of the proposal, including the costs to customers and financial guarantees for decommissioning the plant.
“If it includes a 100 percent bailout of PNM, New Mexicans have already spoken, and they’re emphatically opposed,” she said, referring to the utility.
Steve Michel, director of clean energy for Western Resources Advocates, said the measure sets a path toward a carbon-free electrical grid while including allowances to get nuclear energy from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.
The San Juan plant is a leading source of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the region. Michel said the plant emits about 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually — the rough equivalent of 1.2 million vehicles.
The governor made efforts to increase renewable energy development a cornerstone of the economic platform for her campaign.
“I’m thrilled so many New Mexico stakeholders are on board,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement Thursday. “The renewable and zero-carbon standards outlined in this bill are among the strongest in the country. ... And the economic relief envisioned in this bill will help hardworking San Juan County residents.”
An initial committee hearing has not yet been scheduled. The legislative session concludes March 16.