Farmington mayor describes area as 'ticking time bomb'

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FARMINGTON — Legislators from around the state heard about the impact of the looming closure of the San Juan Generating Station in 2022 as they convened at the San Juan College School of Energy today.

The legislators gathered as part of the Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting to discuss the future of energy in the state and in the San Juan Basin.

During his opening remarks, Mayor Nate Duckett described the local area as a ticking time bomb waiting for the generating station to close. County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter warned that the impacts of the closure will be felt statewide.

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass said the closure will mean a loss of $2 million in property tax revenue to the college’s budget, as well as $300,000 in training contracts and $116,000 in scholarships provided by the companies that run the mine and generating station.

Pendergrass spoke about some of the efforts the college has initiated to help mitigate that impact. For example, she said the college is beginning a tribal energy management program, which she described as the first in the nation.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, asked about San Juan College’s solar program that was cut in 2016.

Pendergrass said the college likely will revive the solar program to train people to install solar panels.

San Juan College Vice President Ed DesPlas said the college has been contacted by a company that may be installing solar panels in the upcoming years in the San Juan County area. He said the college could be reviving the training program as early as fall 2019.

Other topics on the agenda today included the New Mexico Energy Roadmap and work to diversify the economy in San Juan County.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, defended fossil fuels as part of the state’s energy mix.

He said fossil fuels have improved people's quality of life and lengthened their life expectancy. He also highlighted the variety of products made using fossil fuels, including clothing and shampoo.

“Not everything about renewables is good,” he said. “Not everything about fossil fuels is bad.”

The committee will reconvene at San Juan College from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, when discussions will center on renewable energy. Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, had asked about how a state renewable portfolio standard would impact utilities not be regulated by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, such as the Farmington Electric Utility System.

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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