During the recent municipal election, much talk centered on the Santa Fe City Council paying attention to the nuts and bolts of business — basic services, public safety and the like. This Wednesday, the council is scheduled to consider a resolution that might appear to go somewhat far afield, something many voters and candidates said they want to see less of in the new administration.
It’s a resolution, without force of law, opposing the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s energy replacement plan for the San Juan Generating Station. That, of course, is more than 200 miles away in the Four Corners area, near Farmington. The plan came about because the old, coal-fired plant is a polluter. (PNM operates the plant and owns about 46 percent of the output. Other utilities share the remaining ownership.)
Through the Clean Air Act Regional Haze Requirements, PNM is being forced by the federal government to clean up its act. A deal made last year among the utility, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of New Mexico is designed to lead to the closing of units 2 and 3 at the San Juan Generating Station, installation of pollution controls on units 1 and 4, and the reduction of state permit levels for nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxides. These are positive steps for the environment, but PNM could go further.
That’s the point of the city of Santa Fe’s resolution — by opposing the deal as written, the City Council wants to encourage PNM to add more renewables to its energy portfolio to replace the two units being shut down. Adjustments could save money and diversify the company’s energy portfolio while also reducing pollution. Opponents of this deal would like to see coal phased out, with units 1 and 4 moved out of production eventually as well. Many people aren’t pleased, either, with PNM’s plan to add nuclear into the mix as a replacement for power produced by the soon-to-be-shut units 2 and 3.
Santa Fe, of course, gets its electricity from the San Juan Generating Station. That’s reason enough for the city to be concerned. As citizens of New Mexico and the United States, Santa Feans also have an interest in the preservation of area national parks and wilderness areas, including Mesa Verde National Park. Pollution is damaging visibility in the area, as well as making people who live there sick with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Water, of course, is always an issue. The state is in drought, yet the plant uses more than 6 billion gallons a year. Obviously, we need electricity, but the question is how best to assure that future power needs are met while still reducing pollution and water use.
It is of interest to all of Santa Fe to get the most cost-effective, water-wise and pollution-free energy. By weighing in, the City Council can bring its clout down on the side of amending this agreement before it is set in stone (the Public Regulation Commission will play an important role in deciding how power from the closed units will be replaced).
The city resolution has been discussed and is up for a vote Wednesday. Santa Fe should go on record as asking PNM to do more. Continuing to rely on coal, adding nuclear and natural gas sources for power but barely tapping into solar and wind potential is not enough. Neither is PNM’s request to stick ratepayers with costs of $250 million for the two retiring units.
Should enough important players — and the city is certainly one — oppose the deal as written, there is opportunity to make changes that will be better for the environment, for customers, for the plant’s neighbors and even for the energy company that controls the plant.