NEW MEXICO

Bill to extend life of San Juan Generating Station fails to advance in the House

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – The New Mexico House of Representatives on Feb. 14 rejected a bill that was aimed at making a specific type of natural gas power generation allowable in the Energy Transition Act’s clean fuel portfolio and also extending the life of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station by two years.  

HB 220 was championed by two top Republican legislators who said they hoped to save jobs and avoid the potential for rolling power outages this summer after the Waterflow-area generating station is set to close.

Camille Ward of House Speaker Brian Egolf's office said early on Feb. 15 that she believes the vote against removing HB 220 from committee was 28 yeas to 43 nays. She said Egolf, who is a Democrat representing Santa Fe, did not support advancing the bill.

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House Republicans wasted no time commenting on the vote.

“On Valentine’s Day 2022, the love fest between the New Mexico House Democrat Caucus and their special interest donors continued,” said a news release issued Monday night from the House Republicans. “Following House Republican Leader Jim Townsend’s move to blast HB 220 to the Chamber, and House Republican Whip Rod Montoya’s call of the House, Democrats voted in favor of doing nothing to avoid expected power blackouts.”

Sponsors said the bill would have saved a lot of jobs and kept the power supply stable and utility rates more reasonable than what may happen during the summer months. That’s when Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM)  has said it will face a likely shortfall in its power supply.

Specifically, the bill would have changed the ETA’s rules on clean power portfolios to label combined cycle natural gas power plants as a clean energy source under state standards. It also contained a mechanism to extend the life of the coal-fired generating station.

New Mexico Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54)

“New Mexicans are simply asking to continue to count on their electricity and for it to remain affordable,” said House Republican Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia in the news release. “The crisis is coming and I am very disappointed that our colleagues have decided to ignore this looming power blackout crisis.”

The release said HB 220 “is a bill that would have ensured that the San Juan Generating Station would remain operating for two more years, saving many Navajo jobs. The measure would also ensure that NM utility rates would remain affordable and avoid the expected power blackouts that PNM and many media outlets have been covering.”

Sponsors said the bill would have solved a looming problem.

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State Rep. Rod Montoya

“We cannot simply allow our jobs to be taken away, and power blackouts to run rampant when we have a viable option on the table,” said House Republican Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington. “We received tri-partisan support for addressing this issue and New Mexicans deserve to have at minimum expectation that their power will remain reliable and affordable.”

An earlier bipartisan bill sponsored by four state representatives from the Four Corners region, including Montoya, was aimed at temporarily extending the life of the San Juan Generating Station by amending the Air Quality Control Act. It was permanently stalled in a House committee after its introduction on Jan. 25.

The San Juan Generating Station is set to be abandoned by PNM on June 31, 2022, but the City of Farmington and a company called Enchant Energy hope to take the generating station over on July 1 as the city owns a small share of the plant that is being abandoned.

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.

The plant has several owners. PNM owns 66%, Tucson Electric Power owns 20%, the City of Farmington owns 5%, Los Alamos County owns 4% and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems owns 4%, according to Enchant Energy’s website.

“Today, SJGS is a two-unit facility with total production capacity of 847 megawatts,” Enchant's company website states. “ As the operator, PNM has announced its intent to close the plant in 2022. The City of Farmington has indicated interest in retaining ownership post–2022 and is pleased to support Enchant Energy in its planned repurposing.”

Contact John R. Moses at 505-564-4624, or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com.

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