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PNM accuses PRC of using docket as a political weapon to block new energy policies

PRC counsel Michael Smith says San Juan Generating Station case stems from 2013 modified stipulation

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • A PRC commissioner said pausing the clock would allow the PRC to receive a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling about the Energy Transition Act.
  • PNM says delaying the case will hurt coal mine workers.

FARMINGTON — Public Service Company of New Mexico won't put regulatory timelines on hold in the San Juan Generating Station case.

This announcement came after the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission issued an order earlier this week asking PNM to pause the clock. PNM had until 4 p.m. Aug. 23 to decide if it would comply with the request.

The PRC has a limited amount of time issue a decision about PNM's application to cease its operations at San Juan Generating Station. However, the PRC says it is unclear what law applies to the case. Pausing the clock would give time to determine if the Energy Transition Act applies. 

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San Juan Generating Station is pictured on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018 in Waterflow.

In a statement issued Aug. 23, PNM said it won't "give up its due process right to a timely final order in exchange for knowing whether the Energy Transition Act will be applied to all facets of our abandonment filing."

The facets of PNM's filing include abandonment of the San Juan Generating Station, replacing the power from the plant and recovering investments through the sale of low-interest bonds. The term abandonment does not necessarily mean PNM will close the plant. Instead, it means PNM will no longer own and operate it.

"PNM will not agree to the Commission casting PNM as a scapegoat for a procedural disarray of their own making," the utility stated.

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During an Aug. 21 meeting, Commissioner Stephen Fischmann argued that placing the timelines on hold could save time in the long run. He said it would allow the New Mexico Supreme Court to rule on the applicability of the Energy Transition Act prior to the PRC hearing the case.

The San Juan Generating Station is seen, Monday, April 20, 2015, on County Road 6800 in Waterflow.

The Energy Transition Act passed the state Legislature earlier this year and was signed into law. But the PRC had already opened a docket to discuss PNM's future use of the power plant. The PRC opened the docket in January, prior to the Energy Transition Act's introduction in the legislature.

During the Aug. 21 meeting, PRC counsel Michael Smith said the case stems to a modified stipulation from 2013. He said that modified stipulation led to the January docket.

PRC:Energy Transition Act doesn't apply to PNM's plan to close San Juan Generating Station

Smith said the Energy Transition Act may not apply because the state constitution does not allow new legislation to impact existing, ongoing cases. 

The San Juan Generating Station, as seen Monday August 1, 2016, in Waterflow.

"It is unprecedented for the Commission to create a docket and use it as a political weapon to block the historic new energy policies enacted by the legislative and executive branches of government," PNM stated.

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PNM further stated delaying the timelines would hurt customers and taxpayers as well as other interested parties.

"Coal mine workers, who face the loss of their jobs as early as next summer, need the benefits granted in the ETA, not more procedural battles and delays," the statement concludes.

Fischmann was the commissioner behind the request for PNM to pause the clock.

When reached by phone Aug. 23, he declined to comment on PNM's decision. However, he said he is concerned that people are trying to judge PRC decisions based on whether individual commissioners support the Energy Transition Act.

He said his actions as a commissioner have been to try to ensure the PRC follows good regulatory processes. Fischmann said his actions in the case are not based on his opinions about the Energy Transition Act.

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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