Posted: Saturday, December 27, 2014 9:00 pm
Gov. Susana Martinez quoted me during the campaign (“Environmental rules divide King and Martinez,” Oct. 16) as saying that the state-brokered plan that will close two of the four units at the San Juan coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico is “the greatest environmental improvement in the state’s history.”
I’m flattered the governor thinks that I lend her some credibility on this issue.
I still believe that when Public Service Company of New Mexico finally shuts down those two coal units, we will all breathe a breath of fresher air!
However, the positive impact of that decision is in jeopardy for New Mexico consumers because PNM’s plan is to replace the closing of coal with the purchase of more coal and nuclear. Ultimately, the Public Regulation Commission will determine whether PNM can pursue its preferred course of action. If the PRC lets PNM have its way, the positive impacts will be, at best, underwhelming.
Here are the facts:
PNM is the owner and operator of the San Juan coal plant, one of the largest and dirtiest power plants in the country — so dirty, in fact, that PNM racked up millions of dollars in fines for more than 60,000 air quality violations.
Because pollution from the coal plant is causing the skies to brown in 16 national parks, including the Grand Canyon, the Environmental Protection Agency required PNM to retrofit the plant to reduce the pollution that’s causing the haze.
What a perfect opportunity to get out of the coal business, and invest in the clean, affordable renewable energy sources of the future, right? Sadly, no. PNM has fought tooth and nail against shutting down any coal, and initially, the Martinez administration joined the company in battling the EPA.
Eventually, the Martinez administration helped broker an agreement that required PNM to close two of the San Juan units, and advocates — including me — believed the deal signaled a shift away from coal, and toward clean, renewable energy. However, the spirit of that deal is now in jeopardy, as PNM’s proposed replacement plan depends on more coal and expensive nuclear power.
Martinez should use her influence to reinforce the deal she helped broker. What good is an agreement to shut down coal production in these two units, if it’s simply replaced by coal from other co-owners at the San Juan coal plant who want out? PNM is buying more coal because no one else would. It is unreasonable that New Mexicans should be the sponge for unwanted coal.
On Jan. 5, the PRC will hold a hearing to decide between the interests of PNM’s customers and the interests of PNM’s shareholders. The opportunity to replace the energy capacity of the two San Juan units comes at a time when solar and wind are cheaper than coal and nuclear. In fact, a replacement power package of solar, wind, efficiency and renewable energy storage would save PNM customers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 30 years.
The details of the case in front of the PRC may appear complicated, but the choice is actually very simple: aging and expensive nuclear and dirty coal or brand-new, clean, affordable renewable energy? That’s it. That’s the choice.
PNM wants coal and nuclear from old plants that have enormous liabilities associated with them. PNM’s plan will hurt our economy and has zero jobs for New Mexicans.
Consumer and environmental advocates want solar, wind and energy efficiency. Our own governmental agencies have determined that cost-competitive wind and solar could provide nearly 60 percent of the U.S. electricity by 2030. Will New Mexico take advantage of this opportunity, and be a renewable energy leader and exporter or we will remain at the bottom of the economic ladder?
Your elected Public Regulation Commission will make their decision early in the New Year.
So the question is: What do you want?
Mariel Nanasi is a climate activist, attorney and the executive director of New Energy Economy. To get involved in this action please visit:NewEnergyEconomy.org.