ALBUQUERQUE, NM – On May 21, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) brought together the few remaining soldiers to endorse its $7.5 billion coal and nuclear replacement plan in a press conference Thursday.
Coal’s future as an energy source is declining rapidly due to major hurdles: market forces, regulations, and moral arguments. Protesters with 350.org New Mexico, Americans for Indian Opportunity, Environment New Mexico, 4 Corners Idle No More, New Energy Economy, Sierra Club, Southwest Organizing Project, and many others joined together quickly to point out that further investment in coal is adverse to a vibrant economy.
“PNM’s coal is not good for business or workers,” explains Tom Solomon, co-coordinator of 350.org New Mexico. “Why do our rates keep going up? Because PNM relies on inefficient old technology, and it is costing New Mexican families and businesses. Clean and affordable energy and energy efficiency are already creating more jobs and economic benefits for New Mexicans. We are sympathetic to the coal workers and miners. But let’s be clear, it is PNM’s own plan (called BHP2022) to stockpile coal and cease mining in 2019, which would presumably lay off those mineworkers. Let’s get them re-trained in a growing new-energy economy.”
Coal’s dwindling prospects reflect several main factors: the uneconomic costs of coal — including rising fuel costs, the unreliability of the San Juan plant, and the soaring operations and maintenance costs at an aging plant; the increasing weight of environmental regulations, including new standards limiting carbon pollution, mercury emissions and other toxic pollutants; steadily increasing energy efficiency, and the surging installations of renewable energy at low costs to customers.
Between 2012 and 2014, New Mexico realized a 45% growth in solar jobs, from 1,100 to 1,600 new jobs, more than PNM’s 1,500 jobs. Wind energy is supporting 500-1,000 jobs in NM, with 12 active wind projects in the state providing 812MW of wind power from a total $1.4B capital investment, providing $2.4M in annual lease payments to NM property owners.
Laura Harris, director of Americans for Indian Opportunity, a member of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, said “New Mexican families are already struggling, and PNM wants to stick us with their toxic assets. We shouldn’t risk our children’s future to bail out PNM for coal investments that are guaranteed to lose money.”
Particular issues troubling the protesters about PNM’s coal and nuclear plan are:
— PNM’s proposed plan is not the least-cost
— $1.1 billion in errors have been discovered in PNM’s proposal
— PNM’s plan shifts enormous risks to consumers, while boosting PNM’s profits
— Current utility owners of San Juan refuse to acquire more capacity at zero cost
— San Juan is an unreliable source of energy
— There is no coal supply or coal price certainty beyond 2017
— Continued investment in coal will be expensive
— Although PNM is paying $0 for 132 megawatts of SJGS unit 4, it is proposing to charge ratepayers $26 million.
— San Juan coal mine is the highest cost in the western region
— San Juan mine is the 2nd-greatest source of methane in New Mexico
— Palo Verde nuclear is expensive, risky, and creates zero jobs in New Mexico
— Parties to the Stipulation have recognized the uncertainty and issues that have emerged and have withdrawn their support. Never before have so many parties withdrawn from a PRC stipulation agreement.
— This is a huge opportunity to get off old, expensive technology and move to cleaner, cheaper energy sources, creating jobs for New Mexicans.
— PNM’s plan prevents investments in solar and wind energy
These concerns come as a hearing examiner for New Mexico utility regulators and elected officials in Albuquerque and Santa Fe have become alarmed about energy planning and decision-making at PNM. On April 8, a hearing examiner for New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission found that PNM’s plan to expand its ownership share of remaining coal-fired power at San Juan Generating Station was “not in the public interest.” The City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County have all objected to the plan.
The Public Regulation Commission recently voted unanimously to endorse another hearing examiner’s recommendation to dismiss PNM’s recent $107 million rate hike request due to lack of transparency and information to justify it.
Featured photo by Dirk Duckhorn