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PNM should come clean about plans

Mariel Nanasi points out several facts that are getting lost in PNM's rhetoric surrounding the replacement power plan for San Juan: PNM is not making any significant headway towards a clean energy future, despite its environmental claims; PNM's plan is not the most cost effective option; PNM's rates are significantly higher than other utilities in the region; solar and wind are reliable resources; and PNM is already planning on eliminating 400 coal mining jobs in 2019 despite their dramatic claims that this plan will save jobs.

By Mariel Nanasi / Executive Director, New Energy Economy PUBLISHED: Saturday, June 20, 2015 at 12:02 am

Important issues are not well served when facts get lost. New Mexicans may be used to this during a political election campaign, but this year we’re seeing it happen at the hands of efforts by PNM to sway utility regulators on the company’s power replacement plan for San Juan Generating Station.

It’s widely known by now that half of the coal-fired power plant is being retired as part of a plan to reduce haze and fine particulate pollution that’s greying Four Corners skies, and exacerbating asthma and respiratory disease. The question that’s been clouded by PNM rhetoric is the path forward in terms of replacing the retiring generation.

PNM’s plan puts a lot of bill-payers’ money at stake – $7.5 billion over the next 20 years – so facts are vital. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the assertions we’ve been hearing from PNM.

First, PNM would like New Mexicans to believe that the company is progressing strongly into the clean energy era. However, here are the actual percentages of where the company is proposing to get power in its replacement energy plan: 38 percent from nuclear, 32 percent from coal, 26 percent from gas, 4 percent from solar and 0 percent from wind.

Second, PNM would like ratepayers to believe that their plan is the most cost-effective. Yet here are the facts on PNM’s cost of different power sources today: 8 cents per kilowatt hour for nuclear, 9 cents for coal, 7 cents for gas, 6 cents for solar and 4 cents for wind.

Indeed, PNM’s dependence on fossil fuels over renewables has not kept electricity rates low. PNM’s residential rates are higher than those of all investor-owned utilities in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona – and are 37 percent higher than Southwestern Public Service and 41 percent higher than Farmington.

Third, PNM argues that solar and wind aren’t reliable. In fact, other utilities in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona today are using more wind and solar resources than PNM, and doing so reliably and effectively.

Solar is a perfect contributor to peak customer demand because peaks occur when the sun is shining and air conditioners are running most. And it’s important not to forget that PNM’s San Juan coal plant runs only 75 percent of the time. Would you buy a car that only ran three-fourths of the time? Of course not.

Finally, PNM would like everyone to believe that its plan is about jobs. In fact, though, the utility acknowledged in testimony before the Public Regulation Commission that its plan would not create any new jobs. And now it has come to light that PNM is actually planning to eliminate 400 coal mining jobs when it closes the San Juan mine in 2019, running operations with stockpiled coal instead.

If the coal mine is closing no matter what in a few years, PNM should come clean about that fact, and be up front about the need for investment and planning now for retraining.

The energy industry today around the country looks a lot different than it used to in decades past. Renewable generation is lower cost than fossil fuels. More than two dozen U.S. coal companies have gone bankrupt since 2009. Major financial players like Bank of America are divesting from coal.

Owners of aging coal power plants, with lots of legacy environmental liability, that want to sell can’t find buyers, leaving companies like PNM that want to prolong operations taking on assets that are guaranteed to lose money and hoping to shift that risk onto bill-payers if they can.

With big decisions like the one before the PRC this summer on PNM’s replacement power plan, we’ve simply got to cut through the company’s rhetoric and consider facts and realities. Too much is at stake for New Mexicans to tolerate anything less.

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