PNM confirms SJGS cooling tower collapse, Unit 1 shutdown on June 30

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – If a cooling tower falls at the San Juan Generating Station, will anyone talk about it? Public Service Company of New Mexico would not, for a while, but the state did. Then the utility offered a statement briefly explaining what happened.

Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) spokesman Ray Sandoval initially had no comment July 8 on a published report that a cooling tower fell last month and the unit went offline, but late in the afternoon the utility relented.

"Normally, we don’t comment on ongoing operational issues; however, we feel it is important to provide an accurate statement due to some apparent misinformation," PNM's July 8 statement said. "On June 30th, an incident occurred at the San Juan generating station where a cooling tower collapsed. There were no injuries, and the cause of the collapse is under review.  PNM has adequate resources to handle electric customer needs. PNM has updated PRC staff and is working diligently to bring the unit back online."

The collapse and the shutdown were also confirmed by the state late Thursday afternoon, shortly before PNM issued its own statement.

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"On June 30, 2021, PNM notified the Environment Department that the Unit 1 Cooling Tower had collapsed, which caused the Unit 1 Boiler to shut down," Maddy Hayden, communications director for the New Mexico Environment Department, wrote via email July 8. "PNM indicated they plan to submit an air quality permit application to the Environment Department to bring the new cooling towers back online and Unit 1 generating unit back online."

There was plenty of speculation until PNM confirmed the incident, and even state regulators were largely in the dark,

At least one unofficial acknowledgement was made to a state agency early on, but the details were sparse.

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission officials were told that something happened but “as long as customer service remains uninterrupted, they are not required to notify us,” PRC spokesperson Sarah Valencia said July 8.

“Unfortunately I do not have details about the incident, though we have heard that a cooling tower did collapse,” Valencia said via email Thursday morning. 

Public Service Company of New Mexico confirmed on July 8 that a cooling tower collapsed June 30 at the San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow. Some cooling towers are seen in this photo taken Oct. 7, 2014 during a tour of the facility.

Valencia said the PRC was told it was one of four cooling towers, but it was unclear “whether the cooling tower that collapsed was one of the operational ones or not.”

Two SJGS units were shuttered in 2017, and two are operational.

An article posted by the nonprofit online news organization NM Political Report on July 6 cited unnamed sources while reporting on the Unit 1 tower collapse. The article stated there were no injuries.

The City of Farmington, which hopes to extend the life of the plant after its scheduled shutdown date in 2022, did not say much early in the week.

“The City of Farmington is aware of an issue with a cooling tower at San Juan Generating Station,” spokesperson Nicole Brown said July 6, relaying a prepared statement from city officials. “We don’t see it as detrimental to our plans for continuing operations of the plant with our partners Enchant Energy.”

On July 7 the city referred all questions to PNM. A Tucson, Arizona, utility that draws power from the unit likewise did not return requests for comment.

Contact John R. Moses at 505-564-4624, or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com.

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