Daily Times file photo
Daily Times file photo
FARMINGTON — Public Service Company of New Mexico is working to ease the economic blow from the partial shutdown of San Juan Generating Station that is planned for the end of 2017.

PNM has pledged $1 million to the Navajo Nation for job retraining. Many of the plant's employees are Navajo.

The Albuquerque-based utility company has also agreed to donate $150,000 over three years to Four Corners Economic Development to help the group's efforts to diversify the local economy beyond the energy industries.

"You can't overemphasize the short-term negative impacts of closure," said Ron Darnell, PNM's senior vice president for public policy. "They're real, and they are substantial."

Darnell's comments came Wednesday at a meeting with environmental groups at St. Clair Winery and Bistro in Farmington. He spoke earlier in the day to Navajo Nation chapter officials.

PNM plans to shut down two of San Juan Generating Station's four stacks in 2017 as part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico Environment Department. The utility intends to build a natural gas-fired plant nearby to help compensate for lost electric production.

The plan still must clear several regulatory hurdles.

The EPA is requiring the plant to reduce its emissions that contribute to regional haze in protected areas such as Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado.

PNM says the partial shutdown would reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides — the primary target of the EPA regulations — by 62 percent. It would also reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, mercury and other pollutants.

PNM has vowed the company will not lay off workers at San Juan Generating Station, located 16 miles west of Farmington in Waterflow. Any job reductions could be reached through retirements and normal attrition, officials said.

It is not clear how many jobs will be lost through the process.

"We have not projected how many employees we think we will need in 2018, because it's going to depend on a number of factors," said Valerie Smith, a PNM spokeswoman.

The utility does not have a time line to fully close the plant as long as fuel and operating agreements can be extended, Darnell said. Those contracts expire in 2017 and 2022, respectively. A depreciation analysis conducted by PNM put the date at 2053.

PNM is looking to reduce its reliance on coal power. If the partial shutdown is approved, PNM would reduce its portfolio to about 40 percent coal, down from 60 percent.

"We're not here to say we're getting out of coal," said Darnell. "We wanted to rebalance our portfolio. We were too reliant on coal."

Environmentalists at the meeting pressed PNM to accelerate its development of renewable resources. Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance, said PNM could be doing more.

"It's time for us to make a transition," he said.

Darnell said cost plays a role in PNM's considerations, and some shareholders and rate payers demand the lowest prices possible.

 

Chuck Slothower can be reached at cslothower@daily-times.com; 505-564-4638. Follow him on Twitter @DTChuck.