Critic blasts PNM's plan to replace coal; utility defends proposal

Steve Terrell
The Santa Fe New Mexican

A leader of a group that has been highly critical of a new state law mandating utilities to use significantly more renewable energy this week blasted Public Service Company of New Mexico's plan to replace its coal-fired generation from the San Juan Generating Station.

"The proposal and the promises put forth in it ignore history and, worse, it ignores our energy workers," said Larry Behrens, Western states director of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Power the Future. "In parts of the country and the world where the eco-left forces these faulty policies, the results are the same: Workers lose their jobs and struggling families pay more for power."

PNM filed its plan to the state Public Regulation Commission on Monday, offering a variety of scenarios for replacing the power that will be lost by shuttering two coal-fired plants in the area. Company officials said their plan would save residential customers money and allow the utility to operate on about 42 percent renewable energy in four years.

But Behrens said in a statement that renewable energy comes at a high cost, and not just in dollars.

FILE - This Nov. 9, 2009, file photo shows the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

"New Mexicans need to look no further than deserted towns in Appalachia to see dollars devoted to 'help' displaced workers do not deliver," he said. "They also need to look at California to see the skyrocketing prices of electricity that are in our future. New Mexicans will be on the hook for massive solar and wind farms and other infrastructure needed to deliver unreliable power to our state."

PNM proposes plan to move toward renewable energy sources, close SJGS

Behrens pointed to a U.S. Energy Information Administration website, which says the average retail price of electricity in New Mexico is $12.75 per kilowatt-hour. This is more than all surrounding states except Arizona, where the average price is $12.84. However, it is cheaper than the $18.90 paid in California, which Power the Future blames on that state's renewable energy mandates.

MORE:PNM proposes plan to move toward renewable energy sources, close SJGS

A spokesman for PNM, the state's largest utility, disputed Behrens' contentions. "As renewable energy technology has matured, the cost of wind and solar power is coming down," spokesman Ray Sandoval said.

Larry Behrens

PNM said if the state Public Regulation Commission adopts the utility's preferred plan, the average monthly residential electric bill will fall by more than $7 in the first year, 2023.

The proposal would allow PNM to have zero emissions by 2040, which is five years earlier than the deadline in the state Energy Transition Act, which was signed into law earlier this year.

How San Juan Generating Station went from powerhouse to possible closure

As for the California comparison, Sandoval said that state began its aggressive renewable energy policies before prices for wind and solar began their dramatic price decline.

A PNM website promoting its proposal says the Energy Transition Act "is NOT the California model."

Sandoval also took issue with Behrens' charge that the utility's proposal doesn't help employees at the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington and at an adjacent coal mine.

The San Juan Generating Station is pictured in 2015 in Waterflow.

PNM's plan calls for spending $10 million for nine months of severance pay for PNM employees, plus more than $7 million for mine employees.

Also in the plan is about $2.8 million for job training or education for the power plant and coal mine workers. The proposal also calls for $6 million for an economic development fund, more than $12 million for a community displaced workers fund and $1.8 million to the state Department of Indian Affairs to assist Native American workers affected by the San Juan facility's planned shuttering.

Power the Future, according to its website, is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit "with the mission of offering truth, facts, and research that will enrich the national conversation on energy."

Its founder, Daniel Turner, is a former Republican communications staffer. According to a 2018 article in E&E News – an online publication covering energy and environmental issues – Turner has worked for the Charles Koch Institute and Generation Opportunity, which are associated with high-profile GOP mega-funders Charles and David Koch.

Because of its tax status, the group does not have to list its contributors.

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