ALBUQUERQUE – The state’s largest electric utility says the rejection of its proposal by New Mexico regulators will lead to the complete closure of a coal-fired power plant that provides power to 2 million customers in the Southwest.
Officials with the Public Service Co. of New Mexico on Tuesday reiterated the consequences if the state Public Regulation Commission does not approve a plan that calls for shutting down half of the plant to meet a federal mandate for reducing haze-causing pollution.
The utility wants to replace the lost power with a combination of coal, natural gas, nuclear and solar sources.
In filings made this week with the commission, opponents accuse PNM of exaggerating the potential fallout. They also asked regulators to make public key agreements that concern the plant’s future, including details of coal supply and stock purchase contracts.
Steve Michel, chief counsel with Western Resource Advocates’ energy program, said PNM’s refusal to turn over documents has made it impossible to determine how the agreements evolved. “That’s the kind of background you need to determine the give and take that went into the agreements and what the benefits and costs might be,” he said.
The commission had ordered that the contracts be part of the public record, but PNM filed them under seal with a motion that requested they be kept confidential given that they include trade secrets.
Western Resource Advocates said in its filing that PNM’s claim it would be forced to close the entire San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico if regulators reject its plan amount to an empty threat.
The filing contends the utility can’t afford to close San Juan because it has hundreds of millions of dollars of outstanding investment in the plant, and a closure would trigger millions of dollars in expenses related to decommissioning and mine reclamation.
PNM spokesman Pahl Shipley said Tuesday utility officials have clearly demonstrated in testimony and filings with the commission that closure is a very real possibility.
Business groups have backed PNM’s plan, saying it represents the most cost-effective way to deal with the coal-fired plant.
While no one disputes the need to shut down two stacks at San Juan, the utility, businesses and environmentalists have been feuding for more than a year over the best way to replace the power. Environmentalists are pushing for PNM to wean itself from coal, but the utility has argued that a mix of coal, nuclear, natural gas and solar power would be more economical for ratepayers.
On Tuesday, the commission announced that another round of public hearings on the matter will begin Sept. 30. It could last up to two weeks.