Demis Foster explains why Attorney General Hector Balderas took the wrong approach in backing PNM's increasingly unsupported and erroneous replacement power plan. As a progressive candidate from whom supporters expected a bold and visionary approach, Balderas missed a vital opportunity to stand for New Mexicans, says Foster.
When Attorney General Hector Balderas was elected, many expected a bold approach. Unfortunately, when it comes to one of the biggest environmental and public health issues our state will face in a generation, Balderas hasn’t shown much interest.
In his role as consumer advocate, he continues to support Public Service Company of New Mexico’s replacement power plan and has failed to push PNM and the Public Regulation Commission to consider the plan’s long-term impacts on New Mexicans’ wallets – including health impacts, water use and climate change.
PNM’s plan to replace retiring coal-fired electricity by buying up the shares of out-of-state utilities that are running from the plant like rats from a sinking ship and forcing customers to buy nuclear power from PNM investors – at well above the book value of the facility – has not stood the test of public scrutiny. It was a bad deal for New Mexicans even before many significant factors changed, but recent developments have made it look more like a tragedy of errors:
- Farmington backed out of purchasing coal capacity, increasing the amount of coal PNM is taking on and passing on to customers, as well as giving PNM investors an additional share in the plant, in an apparent sweetheart deal;
- Miscalculations and omitted information in PNM’s cost calculations added up to over $1 billion in extra costs for New Mexicans;
- PNM has repeatedly failed to bring binding contracts for ownership of the coal mine and plant over the last 18 months, and is now demanding further extensions – even as they ask for the plan to be approved without a final contract;
- Support for the plan has all but disappeared. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, Renewable Energy Industries Association of New Mexico, New Mexico Independent Power Producers and Western Resource Advocates have withdrawn their support of the agreement. The city of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, Bernalillo County, the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County have all objected to PNM’s plan. More than 6,500 New Mexicans have already signed petitions opposing the plan, and that doesn’t include the thousands of emails, phone calls and other public comments PRC commissioners have received.
Balderas’ support of the plan ignores these critical factors to prop up an aging coal plant that is one of America’s largest single sources of harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. The pollution from the San Juan Generating Station is known to cause increased rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, birth defects and infant mortality.
Balderas should have made a stand and pushed for a more visionary way forward – one that protects New Mexicans and creates jobs that don’t force people to choose between protecting their health and supporting their family.
Balderas missed an opportunity in his first months in office to require PNM to fully evaluate all the viable options for replacing the retiring energy from the closure of half of the SJGS, and better, less expensive energy alternatives are available. But he still has time to change the course of our energy future for the better. New Mexicans want their electricity to be generated in a manner that is not polluting our state, and endangering our health and future.
We are calling on Balderas to take leadership on the issue and start asking tough questions about PNM’s shoddy plan.
Demis Foster is the executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico, a statewide nonpartisan nonprofit organization that is connecting the people of New Mexico to their political power to protect our air, land and water for a healthy Land of Enchantment.