New Mexico bill would end ‘fuel clause’ for utilities

Posted: Saturday, February 14, 2015 2:00 pm | Updated: 10:54 pm, Sat Feb 14, 2015.

ALBUQUERQUE — The New Mexico Senate proposed legislation last week that would prevent public electric utilities from passing increased fuel costs to consumers without a public hearing.

The bipartisan bill, which was brought up by senators Monday, would eliminate the “fuel adjustment clause” used by Public Service Company of New Mexico and the state’s two other public utilities. Instead, they would have to discuss rate increases tied to fuel costs in public before the state’s Public Regulation Commission.

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, are co-sponsoring the bill.

“Electric utilities are regulated monopolies and are guaranteed their costs and a rate of return,” Rue said in an email. “For that reason, consumers absolutely need to know that someone is reviewing the costs that are passed on to them.”

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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 New Mexico had a greenhouse gas emissions rule that was repealed in 2012.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 Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.

Our View: A monumental step for state

January 2014

Down in Las Cruces, excitement is growing.

Years of work to preserve the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak region are almost completed, with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visiting Friday to listen to the community and hear their views on what should be done to protect the majestic country. Her visit is likely one of the last steps before action is taken — in this instance, a declaration from President Barack Obama through the Antiquities Act to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak National Monument.

The action is worthwhile and long overdue.

Under normal circumstances, legislation would make its way through Congress and be signed by the president. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich listened to the residents of the area and introduced the necessary enabling legislation — they will be meeting with people along with Jewell today. As with so many good things, though, bills to preserve wilderness go to the House of Representatives to die. (Measures to safeguard this area have died in the last two sessions of Congress despite widespread public support — opinion polls show 82 percent support for the preservation of the monument.)


Continue reading at the Santa Fe New Mexican website »

Courageous Innovators

It takes courage to innovate. The Santa Fe Community Foundation knows that and wants to honor those who are doing it.

Brian Byrnes, president and CEO of the foundation, said it has been asking, “What’s the narrative the community might benefit from hearing so that others might find courage to innovate?”

This year, the answer is Breakthrough Santa Fe, the winner of the 2013 Piñon Award for Courageous Innovation.

Breakthrough Santa Fe is a tuition-free program for motivated but undersupported middle school students who come from single-parent households where the primary language is other than English. Talented high school and college students teach these middle-schoolers the academic, organizational and social skills they need to succeed.

Every year, the foundation recognizes local nonprofits and philanthropists for exceptional work in Northern New Mexico. This year’s awardees were chosen from 36 nominations. Each of the winners receives a crystal plaque and a $1,000 grant.

The foundation used to honor organizations working in its own fields of interest — art, education, health, human services and sustainability. But several years ago, it decided to highlight qualities of successful nonprofits instead. Hence the Courageous Innovation Award, as well as the Quiet Inspiration Award (Pecos Valley Medical Center), the Visionary Award (New Energy Economy) and the Tried and True Award (Aspen Santa Fe Ballet). The nonprofits will be honored at a ceremony Tuesday at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.


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Groups file petition to help NM utilities reduce carbon risk

October 2013

Kathy Helms, Gallup Independent , August 29, 2013

WINDOW ROCK – Western Resource Advocates, New Energy Economy and 32 other organizations filed an amended petition with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Wednesday that, if adopted, would establish a Carbon Risk Reduction Rule for electric utilities.

The federal government is moving to reduce the emissions from power plants that cause global warming, and some New Mexico utilities could soon have a path to compliance that minimizes the cost to their customers, the groups stated in a news release.

The proposal has broad support from public health, business, environmental, consumer, Native American and other groups, they said, and will help position New Mexico utilities to meet pending federal carbon dioxide regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The rule, if adopted by the PRC, would apply to utilities such as Public Service Company of New Mexico that are planning to retire coal-fired generation in the next several years.

PNM has proposed retiring two units at San Juan Generating Station by 2017 to meet the requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Haze Rule.

The rule proposed Wednesday would have the utilities reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent per year through 2035. Utilities would be provided state certified credits to recognize their efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Importantly, the rule has a fail-safe provision so that if a less costly alternative becomes available, the utility and its customers have an offramp before additional costs are incurred, according to the groups.

The idea behind the proposal is to minimize the costs of future regulation by giving credits to utilities who are already taking steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and to demonstrate a low-cost mechanism to achieve the carbon dioxide reductions scientists say are needed to combat climate change.

“There are many reasons to support this rule,” Steve Michel, chief counsel for Western Resource Advocates’ Energy Program, said. “Climate change, regional haze, mercury pollution, and water contamination from coal ash are among the impacts from some forms of electricity production. This rule allows utilities to manage their risks over time, in a way that protects their customers, the environment and their bottom line. It is a practical approach that allows all sides to come out ahead.”

Given the climate changes New Mexico is already experiencing, from the worst drought in the West to years of record setting-wildfires, the rule is particularly timely, the groups said. The last three years have been the driest and warmest in New Mexico since recordkeeping began in 1895.

“An avalanche of scientific data says that we need to transition from fossil fuel dependency to clean energy as soon as possible to avoid catastrophic climate change,” Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, said. “The rule is a climate protection mechanism that reduces carbon pollution and offers utilities the flexibility to innovate.”
The proposed market-based rule provides an opportunity for New Mexico and its electric utilities to gain control of their destiny with respect to future greenhouse gas and other potential regulations, the groups said.

A similar mechanism was adopted recently for the Central Arizona Project water pumping loads, which exceed 350 megawatts and represent the largest electricity consumer in Arizona, according to the groups. The inclusion of this mechanism was part of an overall regional haze settlement presented to the Environmental Protection Agency on July 26.

Environmentalists throw in the towel on NM’s roll back of regulations

June 2013

By Rob Nikolewski on June 13, 2013

Saying they would be “costly and difficult,” two environmental groups on Thursday (June 13) withdrew their appeals of decisions by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board that reversed regulations dealing with a cap and trade agreement and greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Lawyers for Western Resource Advocates and the New Energy Economy filed paperwork in the state court of appeals that said while the groups still believe the Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) was wrong, “it has become apparent that continuing these appeals will require substantial resources” and the groups will try alternative routes to “find ways to address climate change in a manner that makes sense for New Mexico.”

The appeals came last year after the EIB rolled back rules that established a cap and trade agreement with other states including California and Rule 100, mandating that generating facilities in the state could not emit more than 25,000 metric tons of CO2.

The rules had been instituted in the final days of the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.

But after Republican Gov. Susana Martinez took office in January of 2011, she fired the members of the board and replaced them. Gov. Martinez has been a sharp critic of the previous board’s actions and during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign she called cap and trade “cap and tax.”

Defenders of the original regulations say New Mexico needs to be a leader in reducing greenhouse emissions while opponents countered that the restrictions would have no practical effect on improving the environment while increasing the cost for businesses in the state.

“We think this is good news that we can get this matter put behind us,” said Wally Drangmeister of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, one of the defendants in the appeals. “The rulings by the Environmental Improvement Board were proper and now we can redouble our efforts to do what we do, which is explore and produce oil and gas in New Mexico.”

“We are not abandoning our efforts to find effective ways to combat climate change,” Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director and President of New Energy Economy, in a statement. “We are just refocusing our resources on what we hope to be more promising paths forward – such as a clean energy standard along the lines that we submitted to the (New Mexico) public regulation commission last year.”

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Climate change linked to more pollen, allergies, asthma

June 2013

Wendy Koch, USA TODAY 8:38 a.m. EDT May 31, 2013

MELROSE PARK, Ill. — From the roof of the Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in the Chicago suburbs, an 83-year-old retired doctor finds troubling evidence of why so many people are sneezing and itching their eyes.

Joseph Leija counts the pollen and mold spores that collect on slides inside an air-sucking machine atop the six-story building. “There’s been an increase, no doubt about it,” he says of the 5 a.m. weekday counts that he’s been doing as a volunteer for 24 years.

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Our view: Keep solar projects moving along

May 2013

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2013 7:00 pm [appeared in print Monday, May 27]

The New Mexican | 0 comments

In a state where the sun shines 300-plus days a year, solar energy is good business. Bringing solar panels to the state Capitol complex also makes sense — which is why a citizens’ group, Go Solar, was able to persuade the state legislators to allocate $185,000 to design and build a photovoltaic solar array. The money was to go to the Legislative Council Service, landlords for the state Capitol, to put solar panels on a parking garage. Despite the support of the Legislature, including the 15 legislators who forked over their capital projects dollars for the project, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the appropriation.

The solar supporters say they will return next year to try again. They should, but in the meantime, they should sit down with the governor or her representatives and find out how to put together a solar package she will support. According to the governor’s spokesman, Martinez issued the veto because she didn’t think the solar proposal was well thought out. She also was concerned that it wasn’t fully funded. Those are both good reasons.

However, just as we urge supporters of the solar project to talk to Martinez, we’d like the governor to investigate solar without a nudge from the citizenry. After all, utility bills run around $70,000 a month for the state Capitol and its north annex, with another $5,000 a month spent at the nearby parking garage, according to figures from the Legislative Council Service. With solar power, utility bills would go down and taxpayers would save money — eventually. (And even without switching to solar power, the state could start reducing its bills by shutting off lights in parking lots at night after workers go home. Light pollution would be reduced and so would electric bills.)

In the meantime, while the state project is stalled, we would like to salute the city of Santa Fe for aggressively adding solar energy to the mix of buildings across the city. Santa Fe has solar panels at fire stations and other buildings, with as much as 20 percent of energy for city buildings expected to come from solar power by the end of 2014. Now, Santa Fe County will be installing solar panels at the Tesuque Fire Station, what backers of the renewable energy hope to see as one of the first of many more such installations. The placement of the panels in Santa Fe County are part of the Sol not Coal campaign from New Energy Economy. (The nonprofit also helped get solar panels installed on Fire Station No. 3 along Cerrillos Road.)

Reader View: Energy efficiency – make it happen at home

May 2013

Posted: Saturday, May 25, 2013 10:00 pm [appeared in print Sunday, May 26]

Debbie Sanchez | 0 comments

Southwest Spray Foam is a locally owned and operated roofing and insulation company serving New Mexico. We have been operating since 2007 in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos and Rio Rancho and are proud to employ about 14 experienced employees year-round.

Recently, we completed an energy-efficiency upgrade in a family’s home, living in the Hopewell neighborhood. We installed eco-friendly insulation in the roof, which provides warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. It means spending less money on utility bills and caring for the environment at the same time.

This family was not in a financial position to pay for the insulation work themselves, and they were unaware of the amount of energy being wasted. New Energy Economy, an environmental advocacy nonprofit in Santa Fe, scouts for funding to give back to local families and works with them to green their individual homes. Then they partner with local companies such as Southwest Spray to create energy-efficiency improvements. This is critical because gains in energy efficiency through 2030 could reduce energy demand growth significantly, and with it, stem associated harmful carbon emissions that are responsible for climate disruption.

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This Earth Day, Let’s Be on Mother Earth’s Side [The Progressive]

April 2013

By Winona LaDuke, April 22, 2013

This Earth Day, let’s quit being extremists.

That’s what the U.S. economy relies on right now, and that’s how the huge mineral and fossil fuel companies are making their money: extremism.

When they peel off layers of the Earth for oil and make poisonous tar sands, they are acting like extremists.

And when they crack and contaminate aquifers for natural gas, a process known as fracking, they are acting like extremists.

And when they blow off the top of a mountain for coal, or maybe just put an oil well in a pristine ecosystem and drill 20,000 feet down into the depths of our ocean, they are acting like extremists.

It is arrogant, and it is wrong.

And often, Native peoples pay the price.

The DeBeers mining company has invaded the Cree territory of the far north of Canada’s James Bay, pulling $5 billion worth of diamonds out annually, and relegating the Cree people to Third World conditions. Their water is contaminated, and a plague of scabies and impetigo has hit the tribe.

Elsewhere in Canada, companies are proposing to create massive mines in pristine watersheds. The acid runoff could ruin our habitat, and the cyanide could drain into our water lifeblood.

In Wisconsin, a mining company called Gogebic Taconite helped draft a law earlier this year that allows it to contaminate wetlands in the watershed of the Bad River Ojibwe just a few miles from Lake Superior. Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature did the company’s bidding.

Similarly, Prime Minister Steven Harper has done the bidding of the oil and gas companies in Canada, running roughshod over treaty rights and environmental laws. Harper is trying to force some 600-plus First Nations to surrender their rights and grant access to extreme extraction.

But the extremists who would destroy the Earth have not recognized the power of people and resistance.

In Canada, the “Idle No More” campaign emerged in the depth of winter, and this spring, has taken root, as First Nations stand against the Harper administration and the corporations.

In Wisconsin, the 11 sovereign Native governments have united in opposing the new mining law. Joining them are environmentalists, farmers and those who make their living via tourism.

And across the United States and Canada, a huge grassroots movement is challenging the Keystone XL pipeline.

We are raising our voices, prayers and our actions with purpose.

That purpose is to stand against greed and destruction. That purpose is to preserve this Earth.

The oil and coal companies hold five times more carbon on their balance sheets than we can actually burn without burning up the planet.

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