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Meeting spurred by loss of jobs, planned closure of power plant

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FARMINGTON — Two state legislative committees will hear about challenges facing San Juan County and the county's contributions to state budget revenues during a meeting this week in Farmington.

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said the county legislative delegation asked the two committees to come to Farmington in light of the loss of jobs in the energy sector and the planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station.

The Legislative Finance Committee and the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee will meet from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Thursday at San Juan College's School of Energy.

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Following the Thursday session in Farmington, the committees will leave to tour the Escalante Generating Station in Prewitt. 

Sharer is a member of the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee. Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, and Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, are members of the Legislative Finance Committee.

"We've got pretty good representation up here," Neville said. 

The meeting this week will primarily be educational. Neville said the local legislators wanted their colleagues to understand the impacts closing the generating station will have on both the community and the state.

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He said the power plant is one of the major property tax payers in the Kirtland area. A portion of the property tax funds Central Consolidated School District. Neville said if the power plant closes, property tax rates in the Kirtland area will increase to pay the school bonds.

Another factor he said the Legislature needs to understand is what will happen to the generating station after it closes.

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"It's not a simple matter of just flipping the switch and turning it off," Neville said.

He said the power plant must be demolished, and the property will need remediation.

One option could be encouraging replacment of the power plant with a natural gas generating station, Bandy said.

Neville and Sharer said there is a disconnect between urban areas, like Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and the rural, energy-producing areas. They hope the meeting will help educate legislators about the importance of energy production for the state.

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Neville said energy revenues makeup about a third of the state's budget.

"What happens in San Juan County, affects the state," he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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