January 5, 2015, 1:30 pm
By 9 am Monday morning, the state fire marshal had blocked entry into the room where the Public Regulation Commission was meeting because it was full to capacity. Inside, the policymakers began to consider the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s future energy plans, but outside several hundred people from across the state rallied against the utility’s reliance on fossil fuel-generated power.
Carol Schrader, walking on stilts and wearing a “More Solar” sign chained around her neck, says she and other members of the nonprofit performance group Wise Fool New Mexico braved the cold because the decision that will ultimately be made by PRC commissions “will impact the state’s environment and health for decades.”
“We certainly hope they will be wise in their deliberations,” says Schrader, a Santa Fean.
Those deliberations are still at least a month away. PNM executives and renewable energy advocates are expected to spend most of January presenting evidence in the case. After that, PRC Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer will write a report with his findings and recommendations.
Marcelle Jones and Jessica Martinez, both 16, attended the morning rally with their teacher Tammy Harkins, of Santa Fe’s Academy for Sustainability Education. They hope Schannauer’s recommendations include more clean energy options, like wind and solar, and reduce pollution.
Greenhouse gas emissions and climate change scare David Robertson, who drove up from Albuquerque.
“That’s something that really needs to be addressed by PNM. It’s crazy for them to want to buy a coal mine,” says Robertson, who also worries that commissioners don’t have the technical knowledge to fairly review PNM’s plan.
“There’s also the political interests of commissioners [that] is an issue too,” he says, referring to a court action filed by New Energy Economy Executive Director Mariel Nanasi seeking to force commissioners Patrick Lyons and Karen Montoya from the power replacement case.
Taking a break from the hearing, Nanasi told the crowd, “We need to seize the opportunity to transition to affordable, clean, renewable power.”
“PNM’s goal in these hearings isn’t to reduce air pollution. It isn’t to save ratepayers money or provide clean energy,” says Nanasi. “PNM’s only goal is to make money and lots of it.”
She claims PNM didn’t know what to do when other San Juan Generating Station investors and other utility partners opted to walk away from the plant at the end of 2017.
“They didn’t have a business plan, so PNM decided to force New Mexicans to be the sponge for dirty coal that they can’t pawn off on other states,” she told the crowd, who often responded with their own “no more coal; no more nuclear” chants.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales told renewable supporters unable to get inside the hearing, that “we will own our own energy future."
“There’s an easy path forward and there is the right path,” says Gonzales, who has hosted his own Climate Summit in November. “Our children deserve to breathe clean air.”
Prior to the hearing, PNM reached a settlement with the New Mexico attorney general and five other environmental groups. That settlement requires the utility to shutter two aging boiler units at its San Juan Generating Plant and add expensive pollution control systems to two other units to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency mandate to reduce haze by the end of 2017.
PNM wants regulators to allow them to import 134 megawatts of nuclear power from its Palo Verde plant in Arizona and says it’s adding another 177 megawatts of power from natural gas.
On New Year’s Day, the utility announced it added another 102 megawatts of wind power. In December, public regulation commissioners also authorized the company to add 40 additional megawatts of solar power to its portfolio.
PNM currently touts 2 percent solar and 5 percent wind in its energy portfolio, but that not enough for renewable supporters.
They compare Big Coal to Big Tobacco.
“They hide behind a smokescreen of denial, doubt and distortion,” says Nanasi. “PNM panders myths that renewables can’t power our city, our state, but we know they can.
Holding a polar bear sign with the words “You Are Next,” Cerrillos residents Ann Murray and Ross Lockridge say they believe PNM put misleading information into their PRC motions to “get what they want.”
“When the truth comes out, people will realize they want to take us in the wrong direction to line their pocketbooks,” says Murray.
PNM Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Gerard Ortiz has indicated the company is optimistic that its energy replacement plan will be approved.