PRC tapped to look into cause of fire at San Juan Generating Station

Below is the article by Joseph Ditzler of the Santa Fe New Mexican published April 12th.

"Nine advocacy groups, led by New Energy Economy, on Thursday asked the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to investigate the cause of a March blaze at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station northwest of Farmington.

The petitioners want to prevent Public Service Company of New Mexico from making substantial improvements to Unit 1, the generating unit involved in the fire, in the guise of making repairs, said Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a group that promotes renewable sources of electricity. The plant, in operation since 1973, is slated to close in 2022.

“They have stated publicly in their [long-range plan] that it’s not cost-effective to run that plant in 2022,” Nanasi said Thursday. “If it’s not cost-effective in 2022, and that’s only three years away, how cost-effective is it to add any money to it at all?”

A coal silo, a structure where coal is stored, collapsed March 17, causing a fire at Unit 1, a 16-story facility that produces 340 megawatts of power. The unit remains out of service, PNM spokesman Dan Ware said Thursday.

“It was a mess,” he said. “The collapse and fire caused some collateral damage. They’re still investigating, and what they’re doing actually is making use of the time to do some scheduled maintenance.”

PNM also issued a prepared statement Thursday saying repairs to Unit 1 are underway and that while no final cost has been determined, the repairs fall within the normal maintenance and operations budget.

The petition states the commission should determine the cost to repair the damage to Unit 1 and whether making any improvements to extend its useful life makes financial sense. The power company could claim those expenses later in a rate case, which, if approved, would shift the cost to ratepayers, Nanasi said.

New Energy Economy states on its website that one of its goals is keeping Unit 1 out of service. Joining in the petition are 350 New Mexico, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, Hispano Round Table de Nuevo México, Tewa Women United and four other groups.

Neither the silo collapse nor the fire caused any injuries, according to San Juan County. Unit 4 at the generating station is still operating, according to PNM. Units 2 and 3 were shut down by PNM in December.

Contact Joseph Ditzler at 505-986-3034 or jditzler@sfnewmexican.com."

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