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PNM Deal Needs Public Scrutiny

PNM has requested that its final coal contracts be kept off the public record of the replacement power case, but the ramifications are far too significant for the PRC to make their decision outside the public spotlight. After already having been granted ample extensions to file these contracts, this "Our View" argues that PNM's motion requesting secrecy should be denied.

July 13, 2015

Santa Fe New Mexican

Our View

Public Service Company of New Mexico, still trying to win approval of its plan for New Mexico's energy future, doesn't want the public to know essential facts of the case. To that end, PNM is asking to keep documents regarding its future coal contracts private. The contracts are key to understanding any Public Regulation Commission decision on PNM's plan.

The motion requesting secrecy should be denied. The people who pay PNM's rates and who breathe the air affected by coal-burning plants need to know all the details. It's true, of course, that PNM is a business and would like to keep some of its contracts cloaked in secrecy. The company maintains in its filing that, "portions of these documents include confidential business information and trade secrets which should be protected from public disclosure in order to prevent economic harm."

However, the impact of this decision on New Mexico is too important to be conducted out of the public spotlight.

Already, PNM has persuaded the PRC to grant it more time to secure coal contracts. The costs and other details in those contracts must be public; else, there will be no way to evaluate the final PRC decision and whether it is right for consumers.

PNM maintains the best path forward is to retire two units at the San Juan Generating Station, and then replace that electricity-producing energy with a mix of coal, nuclear and natural gas power. Opponents of the plan, including environmental groups and even cities such as Santa Fe, believe that coal is playing too great a role in PNM's energy plan. (On that issue, they agree with Pope Francis, who is raising the alarm on human-caused climate change and supports cleaner energy for the future of humanity.) PNM opponents are calling for more renewable energy in the mix and claim their ideas make better financial sense in addition to causing less pollution. Without all the facts on the table, it's impossible to make an informed decision.

The utility company bought more time for its deal earlier this year, claiming that it needed the breathing space to finalize future coal contracts and to restructure the operation of the generating station. The extension gives PNM until Aug. 1 to complete negotiations.

In addition to opposing coal on the grounds that it's a dirty fuel, opponents of the deal are raising big questions about future coal supplies, ownership of the coal mines and the actual costs of the coal - not to mention rising expenses from cleaning up coal pollution in the future. The PRC correctly maintained in its June 24 order that "all evidence pertaining to the acquisition of replacement resources and agreements will be presented in the public record." Those documents were due on July 1 - on the record, not under seal.

There's no reason to retreat.


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