State Supreme Court leaves regulators to decide on applicability of new energy law
The Daily Times toured the San Juan Generating Station. Here's a look inside the coal-fired power plant at the center of the state's energy debate. Farmington Daily Times
The PRC case will continue on a timeline culminating with a hearing in December
FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Supreme Court is allowing utility regulators to decide whether a new energy policy law should be considered while debating a possible 2022 closure of the San Juan Generating Station.
The Public Service Company of New Mexico had petitioned the state high court for clarification on whether the Energy Transition Act applies. The San Juan Citizens Alliance joined PNM in the petition.
The state Supreme Court denied PNM's petition on Oct. 3.
"We were just trying to see if this decision about the Energy Transition Act applying could be expedited," said Mike Eisenfeld, the energy and climate program manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance.
The state Supreme Court's decision on Oct. 3 means the timeline set for hearing the case by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission will continue as planned, culminating with a hearing in December.
PNM already has filed its arguments about why the Energy Transition Act should apply to the case. The other parties involved in the case have until Oct. 18 to file their arguments about the applicability of the Energy Transition Act.
“Today’s ruling comes as a disappointment, although we respect the Court’s decision not to grant our request for an immediate ruling,” said Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM Resources’ chairman, president and CEO, in a press release.
Vincent-Collawn said PNM believes the new law applies to all aspects of its filing, including closing the power plant, replacing the electricity generation and refinancing past investments into the San Juan Generating Station.
"As we work through the NMPRC process, we will seek a further legal remedy for any Commission ruling that is not consistent with the law," she said.
The only parts of the Energy Transition Act in question are the portions that relate to the financing and closing of the power plant.
The reason it is unclear if the Energy Transition Act applies to the case is that the PRC already had opened a case docket for the closure of the San Juan Generating Station before the law was introduced in the state Legislature.
If the Energy Transition Act is not applied to the case, PNM officials say the utility will not provide funds to assist with economic diversification and to help workers, including mine workers, who will be laid off if the power plant closes. The utility also will not provide money to Navajo Nation.
"The (Energy Transition Act) remains the law of the land, and we expect the PRC to abide by it, including the absolutely crucial aspect of making whole those affected workers and communities, as provided for by the law," said Nora Meyers-Sackett, spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, in an email to The Daily Times.
The Supreme Court’s decision came only days after the dismissal of another writ filed by the advocacy group New Energy Economy that alleged portions of the Energy Transition Act are unconstitutional.
New Energy Economy executive director Mariel Nanasi said the court’s decision in both cases “really underscores the PRC’s authority to regulate the monopoly utility in the ways that it best feels fit.”
She said the two winners in the Supreme Court’s decision are the environment and the ratepayers. She explained that the PRC will be able to exercise its constitutional duty to regulate on behalf of the consumers.
“There was no way that the Supreme Court could rule any other way,” said Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington. “They would have been usurping the power of the Public Regulation Commission.”
Montoya and other members of the San Juan County legislative delegation have intervened in the case. That means they are able to present their arguments to the PRC about why the Energy Transition Act should or should not apply.
“Today was a win for ratepayers,” Montoya said on Oct. 3. “That’s, in the end, who was being ignored in the process.”
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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