PRC hearing to address ETA

By Camilla Feibelman, Rio Grande Chapter Director

I’m disappointed to have to post another message providing context and correction for inflammatory statements by New Energy Economy regarding the case at the Public Regulation Commission addressing PNM’s abandonment of its ownership of San Juan Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in the Farmington area.

As you may know, in these types of cases the PRC requests that intervening groups provide testimony, rebuttal and briefs on a whole array of issues.  Weeks ago New Energy Economy filed testimony from Steve Fetter, a consultant based in Washington state, claiming that the securitization provisions of the Energy Transition Act (ETA) are misguided.

Sierra Club supported a motion to strike Fetter’s testimony because the Public Regulation Commission has no authority to refuse to apply the law simply because NEE disagrees with some of the policies of the ETA. In other words, Sierra Club, alongside CCAE and WRA, argued that Fetter’s testimony is not relevant to any decision the PRC has legal authority to decide.  The ETA was debated thoroughly at the legislature with broad public participation. The bill passed with strong majorities and public support and is now law. The PRC’s job is to implement New Mexico law, not decide which laws it will follow and which it won’t.

The PRC hearing examiners disagreed with Sierra Club, CCAE, and WRA’s argument that NEE testimony criticizing the ETA is not relevant to PNM’s abandonment case. However, Sierra Club will continue to prioritize our climate and argue that the Energy Transition Act should be applied to PNM’s abandonment, financing, and replacement resources. Beyond its precedent-setting renewable-energy requirements — 80% renewable by 2040, 100% zero-carbon by 2045 — the ETA authorizes $40 million for a just transition for plant and mine workers, tribes, and other communities surrounding San Juan Generating Station.

If the Commission does not apply the ETA, workers and the Four Corners community would lose all that, because the commission does not have the authority to create that funding (nor by the way does it have the authority to set renewables requirements for utilities or close the loopholes on them that the ETA fixed).

Sierra Club will thus continue to oppose efforts to deprive workers, tribes, and communities of these critical funds in the transition from coal to clean energy. We are open to honest discussions about our differences but will not allow our positions to be misrepresented and taken out of context.

The day after the PRC disagreed with us, the same hearing examiners denied NEE’s motion to extend the deadline for submitting legal briefs on whether the ETA applies to PNM’s application. Sierra Club, along with other environmental groups, opposed NEE’s motion, because it is critical that the Commission rule as soon as possible on whether the ETA applies so that workers are compensated before mine closure, so that we get the best renewables prices and so that we can get off coal as soon as possible. The NEE motion was yet another attempt to frustrate the application of the ETA, and Sierra Club welcomes the decision to deny the request.

It is also worth mentioning that NEE, in requesting a delay, conflated the issue of coal ash and environmental health at the plant site and mine with the legal issue of whether the ETA applies. As you can see here, the Sierra Club has for years tracked and fought to stop coal-ash pollution at San Juan. The PRC has no legal authority to decide what PNM is required to do to dispose of coal ash and clean up contamination – it’s the federal government and Environment Department that decides those issues.  The dangers of coal ash are precisely why we need the ETA — to transition away from dirty coal toward clean energy. Tragically and ironically, NEE is trying to use the dangers of coal ash to derail efforts to retire and replace the San Juan coal plant under the ETA.

We must act urgently to avoid climate catastrophe. The Energy Transition Act speeds closure of dangerous coal plants and adoption of renewable energy while saving ratepayers money and reinvesting in the Four Corners community and workers. We can’t afford to stall that critical progress in order to boost the PRC’s powers or to make PNM pay more. A speedy but equitable transition away from deadly fossil fuels is so much more important.

PS.  This level of detail may be more than some of you want when it comes to climate action.  Instructions for leaving this list can be found below. Typically we use this list to provide climate advocates with a bit more detailed information about how can be most effective for solving humanity’s greatest challenge.  One example of where we need your help is issues of oil and gas wastewater (see more here) Thank you for being part of that team.

PRC hearing to address ETA
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