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House committee tables bill that would cap rate increases as renewable requirements rise

Tribal sovereignty, hemp product labeling among other topics before legislators

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Heath workers administer COVID-19 nasal swab tests inside the New Mexico State Capitol Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M.

AZTEC — Republican legislators argue that rate caps are needed as renewable energy requirements increase, but advocates say a bill that intended to do just that would discourage the development of clean energy projects.

Renewable Energy Standards and Rate Increases, or House Bill 176, was tabled in its first committee on a party-line vote. This bill was sponsored by three San Juan County legislators — Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, and Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec — as well as Rep. Joshua Hernandez, Rio Rancho, and Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque.

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State Rep. Rod Montoya

The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee debated the legislation during its Feb. 4 meeting, which can be viewed at nmlegis.gov.

During the committee meeting, Montoya explained that the bill essentially aimed at placing rate caps in place as the Energy Transition Act requires increasing amounts of renewable or clean energy. 

Montoya said the Energy Transition Act took away some of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission's regulatory authority, including the ability to deny cost of recovery of fossil fuel assets as the utilities transition to more renewable and clean resources.

Related:San Juan County Commission approves resolution opposing NM Civil Rights Act

Montoya described his bill as an attempt to protect ratepayers, especially low-income ratepayers who may struggle to pay utility bills if there are large increases. The bill would prevent rates from going up 2% in a single year or 5% over a three-year period as utilities work to comply with increasing renewable portfolio standards.

Several advocacy groups expressed opposition to the bill during the committee meeting including the Sierra Club and Conservation Voters of New Mexico.

"The PRC has mechanisms in place right now to keep rate increases in check," said Ben Shelton from Conservation Voters of New Mexico.

Transmission lines take power away from the San Juan Generating Station.

Shelton argued that the only reason for the bill was to control costs for transitioning to renewable energy and try to provide a market disincentive that does not exist for any other resource.

Luis Guerrero, the legislative and political organizer for Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter, highlighted low costs of renewable energy and said the PRC continues to have control over rate increases as the renewable portfolio standards rise. 

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"We must transition to renewable energy in order to survive and thrive as a civilization," he said. "These laws were enacted because the risk to our children's future is so much greater than a percentage of our electric bills."

He said the bill is not a solution but limits the growth of renewable energy in the state.

The Shiprock pinnacle can be seen, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, from the San Juan Generating Station. Meanwhile, transmission lines transport electricity away from the power plant.

Montoya said if renewable energy is in fact more affordable than fossil fuels prices would not increase for electricity, but he argued that renewable energy transitions will lead to an increase in rates as fossil fuel generation is retired early and those costs are passed on to ratepayers. 

Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, said he recently saw large proposed increases when a utility spent millions to install a renewable energy project.

"The mandates that are in the ETA do not consider the impacts to the ratepayers," he said.

Hemp bill receives unanimous support from its first committee

A bill amending the 2019 Hemp Manufacturing Act to increase consumer protections received unanimous support from the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee.

Finished Hemp Product Sales, House Bill 88, was sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo.

Previous coverage:Shiprock’s former ‘fields of green’ flourishing in Oklahoma's pot-friendly economy

“Right now, hemp products like CBD-infused foods and drinks manufactured outside of New Mexico and offered for sale here may be unregulated, unsafe and not accurately labeled,” Lente said in a press release. “House Bill 88 levels the playing field for our rural New Mexican hemp producers, and also protects our consumers and public health partners.” 

Allison's bill focuses on tribal sovereignty

Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, introduced House Bill 251, titled Tribal Sovereignty in Certain Contracts, on Feb. 4.

The single-paragraph bill states: "The human services department shall not require a sovereign Indian nation, tribe or pueblo to be a party to any Indian managed care entity contract with the state. The human services department shall follow the Indian tribe, nation or pueblo's sovereign will according to the laws and processes of the Indian nation, tribe or pueblo. The human services department shall respect the rights of the Indian nations, tribes and pueblos to self-determination and to control their respective health care decisions."

Other bills 

Prohibit New Fracking Licenses: Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 149, which has been sent to the Senate Conservation Commission. The bill would end new permits for hydraulic fracturing.

Industrial Facility Remediation and Restoration: Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, introduced Senate Bill 250, which would require industrial facilities including electric generation plants to be restored to pre-industrial status when no longer operational. This bill has been referred to the Senate Conservation Commission.

Contract Renegotiations for Some Businesses: Sen. Steven Neville, R-Farmington, is sponsoring Senate Bill 281, which allows businesses that have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 to renegotiate contracts with state, local or regional governments.

Upcoming discussions

• The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 3, the Small Business Recovery Act, when it meets at 1 p.m. Feb. 8.

• The House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee's schedule for its 8:30 a.m. Feb. 8 meeting includes discussion of House Bill 208, related to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman Task Force, and House Bill 231, titled Native American Polling Place Protection.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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