By Mona Blaber, Chapter Communications Director
From the Winter 2024 newsletter
If you’re a PNM customer, check the line item on your bill titled “San Juan ETA Settlement Credit” for a credit of around $9.
The credits come as compensation for PNM’s delay in issuing Energy Transition bonds to refinance debt customers had been paying for San Juan Generating Station. Instead of issuing the low-interest bonds when the coal plant closed, PNM continued to collect its 10% rate of return on the debt from customers, who missed out on the lower interest rate. The Public Regulation Commission in 2022 ordered PNM to credit customers to reflect the savings the bonds would have brought, but PNM appealed and won a stay at the state Supreme Court.
In September, PNM settled with many environment and consumer groups (including our Coalition for Clean, Affordable Energy) to deliver about $115 million back to customers, resulting in bill credits of $9.28 for the average household. Those credits are appearing now!
The ETA bonds, enabled by the 2019 Energy Transition Act, were also to fund about $40 million in worker severance and community investment funding. PNM distributed $20 million to plant workers and to Westmoreland for mine workers’ severance, though the mining company and the associated labor union are in a dispute at the Labor Relations Board, so those workers have not yet received their funds.
The utility also sent $20 million to the state agencies in charge of disbursing it to community projects and other types of worker support. The Workforce Solutions Department has now distributed most of its $13 million in direct checks of $20,000 each to plant and mine workers.
A committee of Four Corners-area industry, tribal, and government representatives, called the ETA Committee, was tasked with recommending projects to be funded by the Economic Development Department and Indian Affairs Department ETA money.
Jason Sandel, chair of the ETA Committee, is operator of Aztec Well Co. and a booster of hydrogen and liquified natural gas as ways to prop up the gas industry. After almost a year of silence since the November 2022 meeting (the first since 2020), Sandel called a committee meeting in October, with no public notice but a proposed resolution with recommended projects already written.
Unfortunately, at that hastily called meeting, the ETA Committee voted 5-2 to accept Sandel’s recommendation that the Economic Development Department fund four high-budget, low-employment projects that potentially violate the spirit and letter of the ETA. Two of the projects, Big Navajo and Libertad, had proposed manufacturing methane-derived hydrogen, but after learning that the ETA prevents funding for projects related to fossil fuels, both companies claimed they would instead produce electrolytic “green” hydrogen, with no specifics on how. Big Navajo is based in Utah, and Libertad in Santa Fe. A third project is Kinetic Power, a pumped hydro project rumored to be intended for hydrogen-manufacturing facilities. The fourth recommendation was Sonoash, a Canadian company with little to no track record, proposing reclamation for coal ash.
Claims of job creation fall flat. SonoAsh says it will create six permanent jobs. Big Navajo predicts only 10-20 permanent jobs. Libertad, 40. Kinetic, 50. And these jobs would only come after years of funding searches, permitting and construction if the projects come to fruition at all.
There has been confusion over whether agencies must issue formal requests for proposals before awarding funds. The Indian Affairs Department initially announced funding awards to Shiprock Traditional Farmers Cooperative, Native Renewables, Diné Introspective, Northern New Mexico Indigenous Farmers and Diné Centered Research and Evaluation — but temporarily rescinded the awards after learning the agency and applicants may have to go through this additional step.
There’s still time for the Economic Development Department to invest its $6 million on smart community-driven projects like Native Renewables’ plan to install solar for off-grid Navajo families or the indigenous regenerative farming cooperatives — the types of projects the Energy Transition Act was meant to support.