By Mike Eisenfeld
UPDATED: 03/07/2015 04:33:15 PM MST
Over the past few weeks, one thing has become clear here in New Mexico: coal is a bad investment.
Today, Public Service of New Mexico is charging ahead with a plan to continue burning coal at the nearby San Juan Generating Station for years to come. On top of that, the utility is also exploring purchasing the struggling San Juan coal mine or even constructing a new mine to fuel the plant. By locking our community into a future of more coal, PNM will prolong the life of one of our region's worst polluters and threaten the financial health of families throughout New Mexico.
For decades, families in our community have lived under the toxic threat of coal from the nearby San Juan Generating Station. According to the Clean Air Task Force, pollution from the San Juan Generating Station contributes to 15 deaths, 23 heart attacks, and 280 asthma attacks every year. In addition to the public health burdens a continued reliance on coal presents to our community, we can also see the enormous financial risks we all face if PNM continues on a path toward more dirty coal power.
Earlier this year, PNM announced that due to a cost accounting error, the cost estimates for their plan to continue burning dirty coal at San Juan and pour our money into other expensive fuels had increased by $1 billion, with those costs likely being passed onto ratepayers like you and me.
This week, the Public Regulation Commission held hearings here in Farmington on PNM's plans to continue burning coal at the San Juan Generating Station. Local public health and environmental leaders, clean energy advocates, and concerned residents gathered at the hearings to send a message to our state regulators loud and clear: we deserve better than PNM reinforcing investment in coal and nuclear.
Our state and our community are at a crossroads: expensive coal or clean energy. Today, clean energy like wind and solar has the potential to supply more power than our current energy needs, while creating thousands of jobs, providing affordable power to our communities, and protecting our air and water for families throughout the region. At the same time, cities and utilities, even right here in Farmington, are stepping back and safeguarding communities from the growing risks of a continued reliance on dirty, expensive coal-fired power. Last month, the city of Farmington announced it would not acquire an increased share of the San Juan Generating Station due to the growing costs and risks that would likely be passed onto the community.
It is clear that the writing is on the wall for coal, and today we have a unique opportunity to transition from coal to clean energy. While our community wants and deserves a swift, just clean energy transition that protects our community and creates jobs, PNM has been a barrier to this important progress. They've fought affordable clean energy solutions, saddled ratepayers with enormous expenses, and polluted our communities for far too long. PNM has also balked at any suggestion of siting a solar facility in the Four Corners region. Despite optimal conditions for solar and the ability to use existing transmission, PNM has made no effort to make a transitional investment in our community.
Enough is enough. It's time for PNM to embrace a clean energy transition for our community that is good for workers, good for ratepayers, good for our air and water, and good for the future of places like Farmington that for too long have lived under the threats of the San Juan Generating Station.
Mike Eisenfeld is the New Mexico Energy Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance