Posted: Friday, February 20, 2015 11:00 pm
My View: LaDonna Harris
One billion dollars. That’s the tab Public Service Company of New Mexico has left ratepayers like you and me due to their continued reliance on the outdated, coal-fired San Juan Generating Station.
State regulators recently concluded hearings on PNM’s proposal to increase its reliance on coal at the San Juan Generating Station as it retires two units at the plant. We’re already seeing some of the threats posed by PNM’s plans. Last month, it was reported that the cost of PNM’s plan to increase its reliance on dirty coal and other expensive fuels had increased more than $1 billion over PNM’s original estimate.
That means that many other scenarios, including those that would add much more renewable energy and move us away from polluting coal more quickly, would cost the same or less than PNM’s plan, which would replace the power from the retired San Juan units by increasing its share of coal in the remaining units and adding out-of-state nuclear power and natural gas — and a tiny fraction of solar energy.
While hundreds of New Mexico moms, pastors, Native communities, business leaders and many more rallied and testified at the Public Regulation Commission to demand a clean-energy transition for our state, PNM wants to increase its reliance on coal while fighting affordable clean-energy solutions that benefit our communities, such as residential solar. We deserve better.
Across the country, coal is an increasingly bad investment as other utilities and states move toward clean, renewable energy. Even here in the Southwest, cities and utilities are recognizing the huge risks that continued reliance on coal presents.
Farmington recently abandoned its plans to acquire a larger portion of the plant once two of its units retire in 2017. Farmington’s utility director specifically cited the costs and risk of investing in coal as a reason for dropping its plan.
In December, Tucson Electric Power in Arizona announced that it would not participate in the purchase of San Juan Coal Mine, leaving PNM scrambling to find a new owner to purchase the mine to supply coal beyond 2017, as its current owner is abandoning the mine. PNM has even gone so far as to consider purchasing the mine itself or constructing a new dirty and expensive coal mine.
The decisions by Farmington and Tucson Electric should be a warning sign to PNM that it is throwing good money after bad for a fuel that damaged surrounding communities and endangers our children’s access to clean air and water.
As coal’s liabilities continue to increase and finally reflect the major costs it has inflicted on our communities, ratepayers will be left picking up the tab.
Meanwhile, new solar and wind facilities are popping up all over New Mexico, creating revenue and local jobs. The 50-megawatt Macho Springs solar facility completed in Luna County last year was chosen by El Paso Electric not because of renewable-energy requirements, but because it was the lowest bid — in other words, the solar energy created in Luna County will be cheaper for ratepayers than coal or natural gas or any dirty fuel.
According to a report from The Solar Foundation, 31,000 new jobs were created in the solar industry over the last year, with even more growth projected for next year. New Mexico has more potential than most states to create those jobs.
New Mexico families and the surrounding community deserve a swift transition to cleaner energy and jobs that don’t sacrifice our health, air and water. By increasing the amount of power we get from clean energy like wind and solar, we can create good jobs, protect families and small businesses from expensive rate hikes, and secure a stronger future for our communities. But insisting on propping up an aging, polluting coal plant despite all the economic signs is not the way to do that.
LaDonna Harris is president of Americans for Indian Opportunity.