Economic development officials counter critics of PNM plan to keep San Juan Generating Station open

New campaign shows faces of those impacted by possible closure of San Juan Generating Station

By James Fenton The Daily Times
UPDATED:   05/05/2015 12:02:31 PM MDT

FARMINGTON — Area economic development officials — facing what they believe could be an economic disaster — are challenging environmentalists' criticism of a plan that would keep the San Juan Generating Station in operation.

In response to what he sees as "radical misinformation" from groups that oppose the Public Service Company of New Mexico plan, Four Corners Economic Development CEO Ray Hagerman announced his organization has launched a campaign to push back.

On Friday, Hagerman announced a new public relations and media campaign, called "Real People Real Jobs NM," to fight back against "aggressive misinformation spread by some radical environmental groups," specifically over the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission's expected vote this month on the PNM plan that would shut down two coal-fired generating units, but keep the power plant running.

On Monday, Hagerman said the campaign — which he said has so far raised around $21,000 — has already run ads on radio and has plans for print ads and possible TV spots with the possibility of campaign-funded events down the road. Hagerman said on Monday in a phone interview that he hopes to gather enough signatures to emphasize the support for PNM's plan and to help secure about 350 jobs at the power plant and 400 at the coal mine that fuels the plant.

"We decided to launch this as a positive public relations campaign to talk about the good things about having jobs in our community and to say that coal isn't the great evil that certain people think it is," Hagerman said.

The campaign will not solely be focused on the PRC vote, Hagerman said, because he believes, "any fossil fuels will become a battlefield in the future." He's hoping to gather as many as 5,000 signatures to show local support for the power plant and coal mine, he said.

The campaign rolled out a websiteand has raised money from groups like the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, PESCO, Lane Electric and others, he said.

Hagerman said the campaign will spotlight the faces of power plant and coal mine employees to personalize the potential impact if the plan fails to secure commissioners' approval.

The proposed closure of two coal-fired units at the San Juan Generating Station and retrofitting of the plant's other two stacks to meet federal haze regulations is a compromise worthy of the commission's approval and provides ample consideration of possible health and environmental impacts, he said.

Hagerman said San Juan County's economic future — $88 million in combined payroll and around $5.2 million a year in property taxes — make approval of the plan job No. 1.

Chris Hunter, who is the regional manager for WESST, a statewide nonprofit organization that strives to support local businesses, agrees.

"WESST serves several clients whose livelihoods depend, either directly or indirectly, on jobs at the mine and the power plant and oil and gas industries. Any initiative that preserves real jobs, real people is something we are supportive of," Hunter said.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director for the Santa Fe-based environmental group New Energy Economy, says the campaign uses backwards thinking, which she likens to the fall of Kodak and the rise of digital-friendly companies like Canon that, she said, embraced new technologies and thrived while recalcitrant Kodak perished.

Nanasi argued against the plan during January PRC hearings in Santa Fe.

"They should want to spend $21,000 on solarizing the heck out of Farmington and employing people and exporting solar because they have the capability to truly be a leader in renewable energy," Nanasi said. "I'm totally a believer that the sacrifice zones of the past should be investment zones of today and tomorrow. Coal is not the future. Investing in renewables would be a huge job creator and those are good paying jobs. That's what Farmington faces — what a gift! They could say, 'We, Farmington, are especially poised to be able to take advantage of this opportunity to invest in alternative renewables,' or will it be, 'No, we'll go with coal.' It's a Kodak moment."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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