Environmental group appeals PRC decision

James Fenton
A ruling by state regulators that allows the San Juan Generating Station to continue operating is being challenged by a Santa Fe-based environmental group.

FARMINGTON – A Santa-Fe based environmental group that intervened in the two-year power replacement case over the San Juan Generating Station has appealed a decision by state regulators that will allow the plant to continue to operate.

New Energy Economy appealed to the state Supreme Court Thursday, challenging the 4-1 vote by the state Public Regulation Commission on Dec. 16 that will keep the coal-fired power plant open. The group cites the failure of the Public Service Company of New Mexico, which operates the plant, to fully investigate alternative sources of power generation like wind and solar.

PNM's case before the PRC centered on the company's proposed closing of two of four coal-fired units at the aging Waterflow power plant. The utility's plan entails replacing the lost power with that generated by additional coal, natural gas, solar and other sources. The plan is designed to align the plant with federal haze regulations under the Clean Air Act.

But, according to press release by Mariel Nanasi — NEE's executive director and arguably the PNM plan's most outspoken critic — the PRC failed to assure the public that a thorough evaluation of the utility's plans for future power generation had been undertaken.

"PNM did not prove that it had identified all feasible alternatives to its plan before suggesting its own resources — more coal and nuclear — as the most cost-effective replacement plan, in violation of New Mexico law and PRC rules," Nanasi said in the release. "Due to the PRC’s rubber-stamping of PNM’s plan without evaluating whether PNM followed the law, NEE has determined that the only possibility for a full and fair assessment of this critical issue is through a direct appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court."

PNM spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter said in an emailed statement that the PRC vote was "based on the facts of this case, which were examined and debated in a comprehensive, open process, and is in the best interest of our customers and the state." She accused Nanasi's group of intentionally misrepresenting the utility's plan.

Steam billows from the stacks of the San Juan Generating Station Wednesday in Waterflow.

"It is unfortunate that NEE continues to misrepresent the facts by stating that the order allows PNM’s use of 'more coal,'" she said. "In fact, the order provides for a significant reduction in the use of coal, and an increase in the use of cleaner resources, including solar and natural gas."

Last month, McGinnis Porter said PNM dedicated the first of four utility-scale solar-power systems in Rio Communities, a city in Valencia County. The $20 million system's array includes 40,250 solar panels, providing the equivalent to the energy used by about 4,025 average residential customers, McGinnis Porter said.

Three more solar-power systems — one in Santa Fe and two in Bernalillo County — that soon will be dedicated will help comprise the 40 megawatts of solar-based renewable energy that are part of the renewable energy component of the PNM plan, she said.

While Nanasi's group has argued for heavier investments in renewable power sources like wind and solar, she argued throughout the PRC case that 40 megawatts of solar weren't enough. Nanasi said fossil fuel-based energy systems are polluting the environment, ruining the health of those who live "downwind from coal plants."

“Coal is a dying business, and it’s crazy that PNM proposed investment in more coal and nuclear because they’re dirty and expensive,” Nanasi said in a phone message. “We have no idea how we’re ever going to clean up this mess that they’ve made and how much it will cost, but we need to transition (to renewable energy sources) as quickly as possible to save our grandchildren so they have a chance at life.”
James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.