N.M. firm accused of putting profits ahead of clean air

PNM calls environmentalists’ report ‘misleading’

The company behind a New Mexico coal-fired plant often blamed for polluting the air in Southwest Colorado hasn’t been doing enough to clear the way for a better future, a report released Tuesday said.

The report, issued by The Sierra Club, New Energy Economy, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Diné CARE and Southwest Organizing Project, found that Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, has aggressively sought rate increases since 2008 in the interest of investor profits while doing little to help the region transition from coal to renewable-energy sources.

Residential rate-payers were saddled with an extra $250 annually, or a 41 percent increase in their energy bills since 2008 while the top five executives at PNM’s parent company saw pay raises to the tune of 68 percent, the report said.

“With three rate hikes in four years going mostly to corporate profits while New Mexicans are struggling, PNM is behaving like a big Wall Street bank,” said Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy.

PNM owns the San Juan Generating Station. And the company, through a spokesman on Tuesday, disputed much of the report’s findings

“It’s misleading,” said Frederick Bermudez, spokesman for PNM’s parent company, PNM Resources. “There are a lot of things presented as facts (in the report) that are disingenuous at best.”

Executive salaries have been frozen since 2007, he said.

Nanasi said in a telephone interview that the utility has less energy efficiency in its portfolio than the industry standard, and it holds about half the renewable capacity it is required by law to have by 2014.

“They’re claiming they’ve done all they need to do, but the fact of the matter is they’re not meeting the requirements of the law, and they’re not transitioning us away from coal and creating the renewable resources that we believe are better for the economy and the environment,” Nanasi said.

Bermudez points to government policy that caps the potential increased costs to customers of bringing more expensive, alternative energy to market.

“Right now, that’s a very difficult element to overcome,” he said, adding that in 2010 alone, the company invested $226 into the utility’s infrastructure while the company had just $191 million in expendable cash that year.

Meanwhile, other investor-owned utilities in New Mexico are meeting efficiency and renewable-energy mandates, said Shraya Jatkar, a representative for the Sierra Club.

Bermudez said the reason for that is scale. The other companies service fewer customers and can reach the goals more easily, he said. PNM is working with state legislators to meet the goals while staying within the cost cap, a company news release said.

Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy issues organizer for San Juan Citizens Alliance, said the report speaks for itself and confirms the company’s corporate priorities are “out of line” in a region that has long been burdened by the “considerable costs” of coal-driven electricity in the form of pollution and public-health problems.

Bermudez argued PNM is doing all it can in the name of progress, adding it invested nearly $100 million just last year in solar plants.

“We completely support the addition of renewable sources,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lori Goodman, treasurer of Diné CARE, said, “PNM has been resisting the air-pollution controls needed at its San Juan coal plant at the exact same time they’ve been putting so much money to profits. That’s an added insult to all who live near that plant’s pollution, and it says a lot about PNM’s priorities.”

hscofield@durangoherald.com

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