NM high court grants stay in case against PRC

James Fenton
San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow is pictured on Sept. 30.

FARMINGTON — The fate of future operations at San Juan Generating Station was up in the air on Friday.

Early in the day, the New Mexico Supreme Court temporarily halted all Public Regulation Commission proceedings on plans for the coal-fired power plant. Later in the day, that decision was reversed when the court said hearings in the case could be held, as long as the commissioners themselves were not involved.

The plant and its majority utility owner, Public Service Company of New Mexico, are at the center of a case that's before state regulators tasked with whether or not to approve the utility's plan. PNM wants to retire two units at the generating station in 2017 and replace the lost power with additional coal-generated power from another unit at the plant, power from the Arizona-based Palo Verde nuclear plant and additional natural gas- and solar-generated power.

On Monday, environmental group New Energy Economy accused four of the five state regulators of being too cozy with PNM, compromising the integrity and impartiality of the case, according to court documents.

The Santa Fe-based environmental group petitioned the court to examine its claim that the commissioners should recuse themselves from the case in light of evidence they have expressed prejudgment or bias in favor of the utility and had unlawful communication with PNM officials.

District 4 Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint, who is also the PRC vice chairwoman, said in a phone interview Friday that the state high court's reversal will keep the case moving forward to a decision later this fall.

"This reversal says that hearing examiner (for the PNM case) Ashley Schannauer was given the go-ahead to continue with the hearing as previously scheduled," Lovejoy said. "I've been hoping that we could proceed on and respect the parties who came together and proposed a joint agreement. To have just one environmentalist group who refused to be part of the settlement and aggrandizing this way, perhaps to stall the process, is probably not the best way to go about it."

In its filing, New Energy Economy accused Lovejoy of speaking publicly in favor of the generating station and the coal mine that supplies it.

A car drives away from the San Juan Generating Station on County Road 6800 in Waterflow on April 20.

Lovejoy called those charges "just ridiculous."

"What they allege toward me is something that I could never do. I honor this job," she said. "Either they are purposely misconstruing what I say or it is a cultural misunderstanding. When I talk about jobs, I'm not talking about San Juan Generating Station. I'm also talking about across the road at (Four Corners Power Plant). I'm also talking about general things I'm referring to when I'm talking about jobs. Maybe it comes out of me in a way that non-native American people easily misunderstand."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.