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Our view: Energy future on the line

Posted: Saturday, January 3, 2015 7:00 pm

The New Mexican

This Monday, the Public Regulation Commission will begin the long-awaited hearing on New Mexico’s energy future.

There is much to like in Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plans to retire two units at the San Juan Generating Station, part of a proposal to help the station meet emission requirements under the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Haze Rule. A collaborative effort of PNM, the state Environment Department and the Navajo Nation, the plan does shut down two pollution-heavy units. That’s a step forward, but it does not go far enough. (The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Monday in the PERA Building in Santa Fe.

The haze that hangs over the Four Corners — caused in large part by the burning of coal at the plant — is both a visual and health blight. The move from burning coal to create energy to other fuels, whether renewables or natural gas, is long overdue. The people who live near the San Juan Generating Station, in the Farmington area, deserve clean air to breathe, just as the customers in the rest of New Mexico do.

The hearing will help determine how PNM goes forward to secure New Mexico’s energy future. The mix proposed by the company includes natural gas, but to secure a supply of coal, PNM is considering buying a nearby mine. That would tie New Mexico’s energy future not just with coal, but with the costs of abating pollution at a coal mine. More nuclear energy also is in the mix, from an aging Arizona plant that other utilities don’t want. Those investments could prove expensive both for the utility company and consumers.

Commissioners must ask hard questions of the utility company officials. Why so much emphasis on coal, especially when the long-term costs of controlling emissions are uncertain? Is the Arizona nuclear plant so old that consumers will be stuck with the costs to decommission? Why not more renewables in this mix of options?

PNM has to balance short-term costs to consumers with the long-term health of its company. The PRC has other concerns. In addition to protecting consumer pocketbooks, it is important to consider the side effects of continuing to rely on fossil fuels as the mainstay of the electricity New Mexico needs. A transition to other types of energy, including renewables, needs to move faster than PNM has been willing to do.

That’s where the PRC can come in, requiring a different mix for the state’s energy, and emphasizing air quality, healthy lungs and long-term sustainability in ways the utility company has not. Consumers deserve no less.

A second term

Gov. Susana Martinez was inaugurated for her second term last week. Wisely, the inauguration planners stayed indoors instead of braving the cold as they did four years ago in an outdoor ceremony on the Santa Fe Plaza. We are disappointed, of course, that the governor’s team chose to hold the inaugural balls in Albuquerque, rather than in the state capital. Santa Fe has been hosting big parties for centuries. We could have handled this one as well.

More important than the dances, though, is the vision the governor laid forth in her inaugural speech. Words are meaningless without action, but we like hearing an emphasis on getting along with the other party and focusing on the needs of children. As for that other party, we trust that Democrats can work with the governor while not abandoning their principles. The fine line is one worth walking. It does seem churlish that few Democratic leaders turned out to watch the governor be sworn in. The government is divided, yes, but the governor works for all citizens of New Mexico. Surely, her opponents could spend a few hours on the first day of her second term to wish her well.


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