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Public commenters ask PRC to approve replacement power portfolio with 100% renewables

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — Supporters of a plan to replace the electricity Public Service Company of New Mexico currently receives from the San Juan Generating Station with 100% renewable energy in the form of solar and battery storage say this will bring economic investment to three northwest New Mexico counties while also improving health and the environment.

Four renewable energy supporters spoke during the public comment section of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission meeting on July 15 prior to the hearing examiners presenting their recommended decision. The meeting was conducted via Zoom.

The hearing examiners say the plan for 100% renewable energy is their primary recommendation, however they also have a recommendation that would include natural gas generation in San Juan County.

League of Women Voters Past President Judith Williams urged commissioners to vote in favor of the 100% renewable replacement resources option, which she described as the “most sensible and beneficial option.”

More:PRC hearing examiners recommend three possible scenarios for PNM to replace SJGS power

She said the renewable option would result in solar and battery projects in San Juan, McKinley and Rio Arriba counties — including one within the Central Consolidated School District boundaries.

The San Juan Generating Station is pictured, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, from the area of the sealed evaporation ponds on the north side of the plant in Waterflow.

Some of the speakers, including McKinley County resident Patricia Sheeley, highlighted that a natural gas plant would have a limited lifespan and would have to be phased out as the state moves to higher and higher renewable portfolio standards.

Sheeley and other speakers said a 100% renewable plan would help the health of the community as well as the environment.

“Solar power is good for the health of our people and it is good for the health of our planet,” Sheeley said. “I believe that solar power is good for the economy of New Mexico and our region.”

PRC commissioners must weigh factors like location, environmental impact, cost to ratepayers and reliability while deciding on a portfolio of resources to replace the coal-fired power plant.

A transformer is pictured just outside the San Juan Generating Station. The transformer increases the voltage prior to transporting it away from the power plant.

The 100% renewable proposal will result in higher costs for ratepayers than a portfolio including natural gas, the hearing examiners said. However, the Energy Transition Act places greater weight on locating the resources within Central Consolidated School District boundaries and choosing resources with lower emissions.

The PRC could also choose to reject the proposed portfolios and ask PNM to start another request for proposals process. 

More:The PRC may approve solar contracts, but delay decisions on the remainder of replacement power

If the PRC chooses to reject the proposed portfolios, this could give Enchant Energy a chance to submit a proposal for PNM to purchase power from the San Juan Generating Station following a carbon capture retrofit.

However, Enchant Energy has said that it does not need a contract with PNM to make its project successful. Additionally, Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer pointed out that the recommended decision of 100% renewable energy would locate solar generation and storage in the CCSD boundaries, but would not rely on the San Juan Generating Station site like the proposal for natural gas would. This could help Enchant Energy successfully retrofit the power plant and continue the operations after 2022.

San Juan Mine as well as coal stock piles can be seen from the San Juan Generating Station, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in Waterflow.

PRC Chairwoman Theresa Becenti-Aguilar said the commission needs to consider the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic when it makes its decision. Northwest New Mexico saw higher rates of infection than other parts of the state early on, and Becenti-Aguilar said the virus has had tremendous impacts on the region.

“We need to take the humanity approach,” she said. “We want to help families. We want to make sure there’s a continuity of income for families.”

The deadlines are approaching for the PRC to approve or reject purchase power agreements for two solar projects included in the portfolio. Those agreements will expire at the end of the month. 

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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