Silver City resident Janet Wallett-Ortiz speaks about PNM’s proposed San Juan Generating Station plans on Tuesday during the Town Council meeting.

Silver City resident Janet Wallett-Ortiz speaks about PNM's proposed San Juan Generating Station plans on Tuesday during the Town Council meeting. Randal Seyler - Sun-News

 SILVER CITY >> Local residents turned out at the Silver City Town Council meeting on Tuesday to voice their concerns over PNM's proposed plans to shut down two coal burning units at the San Juan Generating Station in Farmington.

The speakers called on the Town Council to pass a resolution in opposition to the proposed PNM plan.

"I hope you all will consider weighing in on this Power Replacement Plan,' said resident Debaura James. "We need to stand with Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Bernallio County and tell PNM that the time has come to invest in renewable energy, now."

At issue for most of the speakers is PNM's decision to use nuclear energy from an Arizona plant instead of renewable energy resources such as wind or solar to make up for the lost production.

On May 26, Ron Darnell, senior vice president for Public Policy for PNM Resources, gave a presentation to the councilors explaining the company's plan, which is still being considered by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. Many of Tuesday's speakers' comments were in response to Darnell's presentation.

The decision to close two of the four units at San Juan dates back to 2008, when the Environmental Protection Agency began enforcing a "haze standard," Darnell said during his presentation in May.

The company invested $350 million between 2005 and 2008 in pollution control equipment at San Juan to reduce pollutants.

In 2014, the company agreed to a plan to prepare for meeting new Environmental Protection Agency requirements including the "Regional Haze Rule" and the pending "Carbon Pollution Standards."

"PNM must comply with the federal regional haze regulations and Clean Power Plan," Darnell said during his presentation last month. "PNM's plan is the most cost-effective alternative that will produce reliable and affordable power to businesses and families."

Ben Kieler had requested to be on the agenda Tuesday to present alternatives to the PNM power replacement plan.

Kieler said the new energy economy of solar and wind has developed beyond the limits that PNM has claimed in its proposals, and that renewable energy could be distributed more widely across the state, bringing economic benefits to southwestern New Mexico.

"There are many disturbing issues with PNM's behavior in this plan," Kieler said.

"In this plan, PNM has proven how closely they are wed to the coal industry," he said of plans to keep two of the San Juan units open.

"I also want to emphasize that for many, standing for clean energy will not result in the end of economic development and security for our community," said Stephanie Smith, speaking on behalf of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness. "On the contrary, this is an opportunity that, if taken, will benefit all, through safer, 21st Century jobs for PNM employees."

Smith said her group believes that for PNM to continue to use coal and nuclear energy is both immoral and unethical.

"During Mr. Darnell's report to the City Council, he implied that renewable energy options were not yet viable, and that the cost of renewable energy was prohibitive. Nothing could be further from the truth, and PNM's staff knows this," said resident Janet Wallet-Ortiz.

"Power companies are fast-tracking renewable facilities all over the country and the world," Wallet-Ortiz said. "If PNM thinks the technology is not ready, or that they cannot move fast enough, then perhaps they should not be in the electricity business."

Wallet-Ortiz called on PNM to allow an open Request For Proposals process, permitting renewable energy proposals at market value.

"If PNM allowed an open RFP process, we would see more clearly how these plans would work effectively for New Mexico citizens and our sweating planet," she said. "There will not be any reduction in reliability of our power utility if we use more renewable energy."

Randal Seyler may be reached at 575-538-5893, ext. 5803.

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