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Candidates Differ On San Juan Strategy

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered emissions-reduction upgrades at the San Juan Generating Station. New Mexico has proposed a less costly solution. (JOURNAL FILE)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered emissions-reduction upgrades at the San Juan Generating Station. New Mexico has proposed a less costly solution. (JOURNAL FILE)
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New Mexico’s U.S. Senate candidates part ways on a dispute between the state of New Mexico and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over emissions at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Plant near Farmington.

Rep. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, said it is too soon to take a position. Former Rep. Heather Wilson, his Republican opponent, said she sides squarely with the state of New Mexico.

The EPA has ordered that selective catalytic reduction technology be installed on all four units at the coal-fired San Juan power plant to mitigate regional haze and air quality problems caused by its emissions.

Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s largest power provider, says the technology would cost $750 million – a liability that could be passed on to ratepayers. The EPA contends that the catalytic reduction technology would cost only $400 million.

Officials with PNM estimate that the EPA version of the fix – which is required by September 2016 unless an alternative solution is negotiated – could cost New Mexico households $82 extra per year.

The New Mexico Environment Department said the problem can be addressed with less cost by retiring two units at the plant by December 2017 and installing less expensive equipment for cutting pollution from the plant’s remaining two units.

The 1,800-megawatt plant is New Mexico’s largest source of electricity. It provides power to about 2 million customers in New Mexico, California, Arizona and Utah.

The emissions issue is under negotiation, but Wilson said the state’s solution makes the most sense.

“The EPA rules affecting the San Juan power plant do not have to do with health or the environment; they have to do with haze, which is how blue the sky is,” Wilson said. “The difference between the really, really expensive (federal) version and the state’s version is not even detectable to the naked eye.

“If this is about how blue the sky is shouldn’t we be doing some kind of cost-benefit analysis?,” Wilson asked. “Why should be we be paying 10 times as much for something when we can’t even see the difference?”

Heinrich said he would reserve judgment until the state and federal governments conduct more negotiations.

“I’m encouraged to see that all parties are at the table negotiating for a practical, equitable solution that protects our air and health, but also minimizes the cost to ratepayers,” Heinrich said in a statement provided to the Journal on Friday.

In a Journal interview last week, Heinrich said coal-fired power plants in New Mexico should “meet those (EPA) pollution guidelines in the most reasonable way.”

“I don’t think we should be pitting jobs and strengthening our economy against clean air and water in New Mexico because they are both in our direct interest,” Heinrich said.
— This article appeared on page A12 of the Albuquerque Journal

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