Local officials: PNM plan support is good news

James Fenton
The San Juan Generating Station is pictured on April 20 on County Road 6800 in Waterflow.

FARMINGTON — A state hearing officer's recommendation for approval of a Public Service Company of New Mexico plan to comply with emissions standards while continuing operations at the San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow is good news to local officials.

Ashley Schannauer, New Mexico Public Regulation Commission hearing examiner, recommended approval of the plan in a 130-page recommendation. Schannauer —  who initially recommended PRC officials reject the plan — said last week that it is "fair, just and reasonable and in the public interest."

Four Corners Economic Development CEO Ray Hagerman said he was glad to hear the news.

"We certainly won’t argue with it. It was good news," Hagerman said. "The PRC still has to vote, but the fact that the hearing examiner agreed is a very positive outcome."

San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the news offered a glimmer of hope for preserving the jobs that are at risk of being lost if the PRC  were to vote against the plan.

"I'm cautiously optimistic, but at the same time, the message has been sent that there is support for the plant from the hearing examiner," Carpenter said. "And I applaud the special interest groups that came together (over the summer) to try to find a solution."

District 4 Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint, who is also the PRC vice chairwoman, said she hopes to vote on the case before the end of the year.

"I am going over some of the recommendations. the whole case is about 130 pages," Lovejoy said. "I'm going over (all) of PNM's data and calculations, the different energy mix sources ... and based on that I will probably formulate some questions over how they arrived at certain things."

Lovejoy said a vote could come soon.

"Now that we have the (recommendation), it appears it will be coming to us sometime soon," she said. "I am sure it will be in the next few weeks."

Michael C. Smith, general counsel for the PRC, said the regulators' next meeting would not come until after the Thanksgiving holiday. The PRC typically holds regular meetings on Wednesdays, but this week's meeting was canceled because of its proximity to the holiday and it will be moved to Monday.

In his recommendation, Schannauer said that PNM's plan "represents a reasonable approach." The stipulated plan calls for retiring two of the coal-fired power plant's generating stacks by the end of 2017 and replacement of the lost power with additional coal-generated power from another unit at the plant, Arizona-based Palo Verde nuclear plant power and some additional natural gas- and solar-generated power.

Earlier this year, Hagerman's group announced a public relations and media campaign called "Real People Real Jobs NM," that initially targeted the San Juan Generating Station case before state regulators. Hagerman was vocal and active in supporting PNM, traveling as far as Albuquerque to speak in support of the plan and the roughly 740 jobs at risk at the power plant and at San Juan Mine, the sole supplier of coal to the plant.

Now, the campaign has raised another $20,000, Hagerman said, that will be used to throw support behind other jobs-based causes in the oil and gas industry.

Carpenter said that he was originally against the current plan to shut down two units at the power plant but realized that compromise was essential to try to preserve as many jobs and tax revenue as possible.

Each year, Carpenter has said, the generating station and nearby Four Corners Power Plant  — which retired three of its five stacks in 2013 and began installing pollution controls on the surviving two stacks this fall — pay an estimated $4.5 million in property taxes to the county.

"Jobs are still going to be lost. I wasn't even for this plan," Carpenter said of the San Juan Generating Station. "I didn't want the two units to go away, but we realized we had to have some kind of compromise. What is really frustrating is we've given a heck of a lot in this community. We've sacrificed quite a bit already."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and