Local officials, coal miners travel to Albuquerque to show support for PNM plan to keep San Juan Generating Station open

James Fenton The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan County business leaders, coal miners, power plant workers and elected officials are planning to join others in Albuquerque on Thursday to voice support for a plan that would allow the San Juan Generating Station to continue operating.

"The idea is we want to show solidarity for (Public Service Company of New Mexico's) plan," said Ray Hagerman, Four Corners Economic Development CEO. "We're going to have solidarity between union and management on Thursday, sitting together in solidarity for once. We want to have business and community leaders from both communities together to show support for the jobs the power plant and coal mine represent."

Thursday's press conference is organized and hosted by the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, a member-led economic development group headquartered in Albuquerque.

Eric Layer, a spokesman for the statewide chamber group, said the conference seeks to emphasize the economic development impact of PNM's plan.

"The future (of the generating station and the coal mine) continues to be an issue that stands to impact the business community in New Mexico," Layer said by phone on Tuesday. "We decided to host this event to draw attention to the economic impact and the importance of moving forward with the plan and to support the plan as a responsible effort."

PNM's plan would allow the Waterflow power plant to reduce haze-causing emissions, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while continuing operations. It calls for shutting down two of the station's coal-burning stacks and adding carbon emission reducing technology on the remaining two. The plan also calls for investments in solar, nuclear and natural gas power to replace the power lost from closing the two units.

An earlier plan would have required the installation of costly technology that likely would have resulted in the plant's closing.

The current plan must be approved by The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission in order for the generating station to continue operations. A vote by the state regulatory body was expected to be held this month, but the item was not on the agenda for the PRC's meeting scheduled for today in Santa Fe.

Hagerman attended an Albuquerque city council meeting last month to emphasize that 740 jobs — 400 coal miners and 340 power plant workers — would be jeopardized if the plan is not approved. He said the generating station and the coal mine that feeds it also represent around 2,400 indirect jobs.

At that meeting, the Albuquerque City Council decided to withdraw its support for PNM's plan, which Hagerman attributed to "radical misinformation" spread by the plan's opponents, largely environmental groups.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Hagerman said his group's campaign launched earlier this month called "Real People, Real Jobs" is helping add to the voices in support of the coal mine and generating station's future.

The campaign, which includes a web page and a petition drive, emphasizes the jobs at stake by featuring employees of the generating station and coal mine in its advertising.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director for the Santa Fe-based environmental group New Energy Economy, said the plan lacks substantial investments in renewable energy. Nanasi said that jobs like solar array installation and manufacturing should trump those that are created by coal-fired power production.

"New Mexicans today want a priority on clean and affordable energy and energy efficiency that come with jobs and economic benefits for New Mexicans," Nanasi said in an email. "... There's very good reason for the increasing public scrutiny and skepticism of (PNM)."

But Hagerman said that solar jobs proposed by environmental groups like Nanasi's are not comparable or as well-paying as those at the coal mine or generating station.

"The fact of the matter is that solar jobs like those aren't permanent and offer no guarantee that they pay as much as the power plant," Hagerman said. "To make up for the amount of mega watts (represented by all four units at the generating station) we would have to have 25 square miles of solar array. Plus the sun would have to shine 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. How realistic is that?"

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.