New Mexico utilties mull proposed carbon emissions rule’s impact

June 2014

copyright phaedra haywood. New Mexican file photo

copyright phaedra haywood. New Mexican file photo

Updated: 12:05 am, Tue Jun 3, 2014.

By Staci Matlock
The New Mexican

New Mexico utilities aren’t sure yet how a new proposed federal rule requiring states to reduce carbon emissions from existing coal-fired fired plants will affect their operations.

The proposed rule, unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, gives states until 2030 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent below 2005 emissions levels. It doesn’t target specific power plants.

States have until June 2016 to propose plans for reducing total carbon emissions from existing power plants. States and utility companies that already have renewable energy standards, energy efficiency programs and their own greenhouse gas rules in place are likely to fare well with the new standards. New Mexico had a greenhouse gas emissions rule that was repealed in 2012.

The state’s largest utility provider, Public Service Company of New Mexico, is already set to reduce its coal-fired power as part of a federal mandate to clean up air near its San Juan Generating Station. PNM is asking federal and state approval to retire two coal-fired units there, though the company hopes to add back 132 megawatts of capacity at the plant as part of its plan to replace the power.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which supplies electricity to rural cooperatives in four states including New Mexico, doesn’t yet know how the rule will affect members, said Lee Boughey, communications director. “We will work to ensure that any carbon standards allow us to continue to deliver affordable and reliable power to our member electric cooperatives and the rural communities they serve across the West,” Boughey said. “Tri-State has been investing in carbon management technology research, development and demonstration that could offer solutions. We have also been adding low or no carbon resources to diversify our generation mix.”

Tri-State purchases about 40 megawatts of coal fired power from the San Juan Generating Station and has more coal-fired capacity in other stations.

He said that in 2013 about 20 percent of the energy delivered to Tri-State’s member cooperatives was from renewable sources. But it also is adding a lot more coal-fired power. According to a recent Associated Press report, Tri-State will have access to more than 600 megawatts of power from a newly approved $2.8 billion coal-fired plant in Kansas.

Some environmental groups applauded the proposed federal carbon emissions rule as a major step toward addressing climate change.

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, said climate disruption has already cost New Mexico millions from drought, wildfires and invasive pests.

“Even without considering climate disruption, economists tell us that coal is the most expensive form of energy because of the medical problems it contributes to and the damage it does to tourism revenues by clouding New Mexico’s gorgeous vistas,” Feibelman said in a statement released Monday.

Some environmental groups think the new rule still doesn’t go far enough given the urgency of mitigating climate change. “Further, the incorporation of emissions trading and offsetting creates opportunities for utilities to dodge the responsibility to either pay for their pollution at a level equivalent to the human health and environmental damage they create or to change to cleaner energy sources,” said Mariel Nanasi, director of New Energy Economy in Santa Fe.

PNM will be adding more solar power in the years ahead to meet customer power demand. In a renewable energy plan filed Monday with the state Public Regulation Commission, the utility said it will add four solar energy centers in 2015, raising its solar capacity to 107 megawatts, equal to the power used by 40,000 average homes in a year. It still represents a small portion of the total power needed for PNM customers.

Contact Staci Matlock at 505-986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.

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