FARMINGTON – New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission ruled in favor of the Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s application to abandon operations at the San Juan Generating Station, despite an initial interruption of the hearing Wednesday.
The commission unanimously voted to allow the energy company, PNM, to halt operations at the generating station beginning June 30, 2022. During the hearing, members also voted to approve PNM’s low-interest energy bonds under 2019’s Energy Transition Act.
An energy transition charge on customers’ bills will be used to pay off PNM’s bonds. According to PNM’s own calculations, transitioning to other sources of energy, even with the additional charge will equal out to a net savings of $6.87 for customers.
According to the utility company, the bonds approved by the commission include $19.2 million to decommission the power plant; $283 million to refinance past investments into the plant; $9.4 million for reclamation at the San Juan Mine; $20 million for job training for power plant and mine employees; $5.9 million for economic diversification in local communities; $12.1 million for displaced workers and $1.8 million for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department.
“Our customers, communities and environment will benefit as we move to exit all of our coal-fired generation and replace it with lower-cost, cleaner energy resources,” PNM President Pat Vincent-Collawn said in a statement after the commission’s vote. “The use of the securitization tool under the ETA provides $40 million to help workers and the communities affected by the closure.”
She added PNM would continue to look for ways to provide cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy to its customers.
As Chairwoman Theresa Becenti-Aguilar discussed the San Juan Generating Station and the public health emergencies declared by San Juan County and the city of Farmington, the hearing erupted into chaos as people entered the Zoom conference and began talking over Becenti-Aguilar.
Just before the interruption, the chairwoman referenced the COVID-19 outbreak: “As we are making a decision today, we are also dealing with an extraordinary time. But we still have to move forward protecting the rights of the customers, PNM customers, their rights.”
Shortly after, someone was heard saying, “Minorities don’t have rights,” while another said, “Is this a clan meeting?” Music began playing and profanity and racial slurs were heard. Ultimately, the commission, unable to mute the interrupters, ended the meeting.
After ending the Zoom video conference, the commission ultimately reconvened the hearing. The Energy Transition Act specified a decision had to be made by April 1, otherwise the application would be considered automatically approved.
In an emailed statement after the vote, the director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, Camilla Feibelman, said the disruption of the meeting was an example of “how vulnerable our democracy is to interference.”
She added, “We applaud the PRC for attempting to move forward on the urgent business of taking action to address the climate crisis and to protect workers and communities.”
The Sierra Club also condemned anyone attempting to interfere in the public process and the use of racist terms in the video conference call, Feibelman said.
The commission’s ruling will not affect the city of Farmington’s plan to keep the generating station open with the help of Enchant Energy, a company that wants to run a carbon-capture program. Farmington has said it will transfer ownership of the plant to Enchant Energy, after PNM’s abandonment of operations. The plant would require a renovation with carbon-capture technology.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s departure of the San Juan Generating Station would be in the year 2023. It is June 30, 2022. An earlier version also incorrectly used the ‘he’ pronoun for PNM’s President Pat Vincent-Collawn.