County still looking at seeking status that will allow it to enter evidence in case
FARMINGTON — The county's economic development group intends to become more involved next week in a plan before the state Public Regulation Commission that could determine whether the San Juan Generating Station continues to operate, the group's chief executive officer said.
"It's absolutely necessary now," Four Corners Economic Development CEO Ray Hagerman said.
If the PRC denies the plan, officials worry the power plant and the coal mine that supplies it would close. They estimate the plant and mine employ 750 workers with an annual payroll of $88 million. The plant also pays millions of dollars in property taxes.
In a San Juan County Commission meeting late last month, Assistant Attorney General Cholla Khoury urged the county to "intervene" in the plan to restructure the power plant, which is a compromise that would bring the plant into compliance with federal haze regulations by closing two coal-burning generating units. The original federal plan was expected to be so costly, plant operators said they likely would have to close the generating station.
Hagerman said he will file next week to become an intervener. Neither the county nor the city of Farmington are currently interveners.
Intervening would require sending a representative to Santa Fe to meet with members of the PRC and enter evidence into the record that can be used when the commission makes its decision.
Local officials have held rallies, testified to the PRC, sent letters to them and spoken about how the region's economy could collapse if the plant is closed. But none of that can be considered unless entered into evidence by intervenors.
"No one did this on the front end because everybody thought that everything was agreed to already," Hagerman said.
But then the objectives of environmental groups and other organizations seemed to change, and some intervened in an initial hearing in an effort to close the power plant, Hagerman said. It was too late then for local officials to intervene, he said.
But he, the county and the city have more time since the PRC granted PNM an extension to file vital documents that include ownership restructuring and coal supply agreements.
Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts said the city has considered intervening in the plan several times in the past few years, but decided against it because the city's primary interests are as plant co-owners.
He considers the city's support for PNM's plan already public record because it's been shared in public meetings. Therefore, he said, intervening is not necessary.
Also, the PRC has considerations other than the county's economy, he said.
"They have to consider the best interests of PNM's consumers, in the context of rates," he said, referring to a PRC rate case involving the public service company.
County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said he didn't learn the county could intervene until about a month ago.
"We were under the impression that our testimony would be on the record," he said.
The County Commission was scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider intervening, but Carpenter said they rescheduled the meeting to Aug. 18 so staff could further consider the issue.
The county will likely intervene, but the commission must decide that, he said.
District 4 PRC Commissioner Linda Lovejoy, who represents the county, said she cannot encourage the county, city or Hagerman's organization to intervene. But she also said, "I personally feel they should have way back when the case was filed."
She would not say whether testimony placed on the record about the potential local economic impacts would sway her vote. But she did say that in her opinion intervening would be beneficial.
"How beneficial would it be?" she said. "That's what they have to research."