Official says NM is ready for new power plant rules

James Fenton
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Officials with Gov. Susana Martinez's administration and a local power utility said the state is prepared to meet tighter power plant regulations — announced Monday by the Obama administration — that are intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a email that the Clean Power Plan amounts to "overreach" by the federal government, but that the elements of the final plan, which has been available in draft form, provided few surprises.

"We've been anticipating this day for over three years," Flynn said. "That being said, as a result of Gov. Martinez's leadership in brokering the San Juan Generating Station agreement in 2012, New Mexico is now in a very strong position ... to create our own plan to meet the new standards and take meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gases, all while reducing New Mexico's vulnerability to federal overreach."

Officials with the Public Service Company of New Mexico, which operates the San Juan Generating Station, said the company's proposed plan, which Martinez helped negotiate, takes into account the new emissions standards.

"We remain optimistic that PNM's proposed plan for (the generating station) will put New Mexico in a good position to ultimately comply with EPA's aggressive goals," said Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM chairman, president and CEO, in a statement.

Vincent-Collawn said the utility's plan — which is currently under consideration by the state Public Regulation Commission — will ensure the power plant continues operations.

"PNM is committed to reducing emissions and increasing the use of cleaner resources in ways that keep electric prices affordable for our customers and ensure the reliability of the electric system," he said. "We still have to review the (Obama administration) plan in detail, but we are encouraged that EPA's emission rate for (New Mexico) is not significantly different from the proposed rule and that EPA has provided additional time for states to submit plans and for utilities to comply."

Arizona Public Service Co. spokesman Steven Gotfried could only say on Monday that the utility, which operates Four Corners Power Plant, is reviewing the plan.

"This is extraordinarily complex rule that has taken the EPA several years to develop and it's going to take some time for APS to fully understand its impact particularly to the Four Corners Power Plant," Gotfried said.

Sanders Moore, director of Environment New Mexico in Albuquerque, said that the required reductions in power plant emissions will lead to greater investment in renewable energy.

"The Clean Power Plan is the single biggest action the U.S. has ever taken on climate and is great news for New Mexico," Moore said. "Cracking down on coal and gas while ramping up wind, solar, and other clean energy sources will protect our families' health today and ensure a safer climate for the future."

Donald Benn, Navajo Nation EPA executive director, echoed Gotfried's cautious reaction to the new standards.

"It's a 1,600-page page document," Benn said. "I can't read that fast. We have people reviewing it right now."

Officials at Navajo Transitional Energy Company — or NTEC, an entity of the Navajo Nation formed in 2012 to purchase Navajo Mine from BHP-Billiton — said that they are reviewing the plan.

NTEC spokesman Erny Zah said a supplemental rule included in the plan is good news for the tribal entity.

"One of the things that is good about the plan is that there is a supplemental that allows Indian Country, which includes the Navajo Nation, to propose their own rules to meet emission standards," Zah said.

Zah said he hopes that the supplemental rule gives tribes greater opportunities to address emissions and the potential for pollution capture technologies in the future.

"It's an opportunity for tribes to examine exactly how they want to tackle this," he said. "We, as NTEC, hope that it will help all tribal partners to engage in a larger dialogue that includes both the usage of coal today and long-term planning that could engage newer technologies."

Newer technologies, he said, include coal gasification and liquefaction, which could lead the way to coal-generated power with reduced emissions, ensuring the Fruitland mine continues operations, he said.

Last fall, NTEC was awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Interior's Energy and Mineral Development program that Zah said will enable the entity to look into the plausibility of those technologies after the mine is paid off in 2017.

"We do look forward to also exploring opportunities with NTEC in renewable and alternative technology development once we realize profits from coal sales," Zah said.

Ten percent of coal profits will go toward renewable and alternative energy projects, which is part of the tribal entity's charter, he said.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement that the plan will provide innovation and jobs in the state.

"Today's proposed clean power rule is designed to help provide what every New Mexican wants for our children — clean air, fresh water and good health," he said. "And it allows each state to shape our own path to lower carbon emissions. I've always said we need a 'do it all, do it right' strategy to balance traditional energy with new energy sources. Let's seize this opportunity to spur innovation and job creation, strengthen industries New Mexico does well, like solar, wind and biofuels, and build a clean energy future for the generations to come."

Mike Eisenfeld of the Farmington-based San Juan Citizens Alliance said that the plan signals that area power plants and coal mines are aging polluters that will ultimately be replaced by renewable power.

"I think it's an important step forward and an acknowledgment that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that needs to be regulated," Eisenfeld said. "This should stimulate more of a dialogue in a community like ours that has relied on large-scale coal facilities for a long time. ... I offer that none of the arguments (for coal-generated power) hold up."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.