It’s difficult to understand why the Public Regulation Commission would delay a decision on New Mexico’s energy future. But that’s what the body did on Wednesday by kicking down the road a vote on Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plan for the San Juan Generating Station.
The PRC — with Santa Fe’s Valerie Espinoza the lone vote against — agreed to let PNM have two more months. (We like her statement: “I think it’s time to vote this thing down once and for all.”) For now, the utility has two more months to try and secure its future coal and ownership agreements as part of the power supply mix to keep the San Juan Generating Station operating. The utility has agreed to shut down two coal-fired units at the station and retrofit the remaining two units with pollution controls.
Whatever happens, though, needs approval from the PRC. These representatives, elected by the people, are charged with ensuring that the plan going forward is both cost-effective and will reduce pollutants. Trouble is, since the original stipulated agreement was announced much has changed. PNM underestimate costs — perhaps by as much as $1 billion — and the stability of coal supplies has become increasingly questionable. That, on top of the reality that coal is a dirty fuel, one that will become more and more costly in years to come. It is not the most cost-effective option.
The PRC’s own hearing officer rejected the PNM plan, writing that, “the stipulation as a whole does not produce net benefits to the public.” That’s pretty clear advice — advice the commissioners should heed.
Let’s hope that a two-month delay doesn’t result in two more months of PNM clinging to coal. This could be, instead, the opportunity for the utility to increase its use of renewables, rely less on coal and actually come up with an energy plan that is good for New Mexicans.
An outright rejection by the PRC would have been best — that way, PNM officials would understand their current path won’t work. That didn’t happen, but at least the PRC is not approving a bad plan. At least not yet. Despite the lack of support from the general public, municipalities and environmental groups, it’s entirely possible the plan still could be approved. The PRC is a political body, subject to the vagaries of contributors and influence.
For the next two months, it’s important to let the PRC know that approval of this plan is not supported by many New Mexicans and that better, less expensive energy alternatives are available. One important voice that needs to be heard is Attorney General Hector Balderas. His office initially supported the agreement now before the PRC, but that was under then-Attorney General Gary King and before the increased costs became known. Balderas needs to speak up now, against the plan.
Then, the PRC needs to reject and PNM need to re-think its approach.