Bill is needed as utility shifts to cleaner energy

PNM is closing the San Juan coal-fired power plant. Finally. I, like many across New Mexico who care deeply about safeguarding our environment and fighting global warming, couldn’t be happier.

If you’re thinking, “Great, but what took them so long?” you’re in good company. I probably don’t have to tell you that the energy industry moves at a glacial pace when it comes to making big changes, and PNM is no exception. Shutting down the San Juan coal plant has been too long in coming.

While the end of coal-burning power generation in New Mexico is something to be celebrated, it brings with it unprecedented challenges for the state and local communities. The closure of the San Juan coal plant brings with it the possible loss of over a thousand jobs, and tens of millions of dollars for schools and communities in northwest New Mexico. That’s why I am co-sponsoring SB 47 – the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act.

This bill gives the Public Regulation Commission a new tool, to permit public utilities to issue securitized bonds to cover the cost of transitioning from coal-burning power plants to cleaner forms of energy. What this means is the terms of the bonds can’t be changed. These bonds come at a lower interest rate, which saves ratepayers – aka families and businesses – money. Thirteen other states have done exactly this when faced with similar challenges – successfully.

There are some who say the most important thing we can do as we transition from coal burning generation is to punish PNM.

And that’s fine. That kind of vindictive politics feels good. And we see a lot of it in Washington right now.

But who loses under that scenario? Ratepayers and the families, communities and schools that have depended upon the San Juan coal plant for generations.

Without this legislation, PNM will have to pay higher interest rates to recover its investments in coal and redeploy them into cleaner forms of energy. Those costs will be passed on to ratepayers. And it’s not only ratepayers that lose under this scenario, it’s all of us.

For years, we who care about environmental stewardship have been saying that we can grow the economy and take care of the environment at the same time. This is our moment to prove that. If we can show that getting out of coal doesn’t have to come at a huge financial loss to communities, shareholders and ratepayers, we build momentum toward more renewable forms of energy.

If we fail, and succumb to the same old politics of blame and shame, then we lose. And New Mexico falls behind. I, for one, am tired of seeing New Mexico get left behind.

A recent opinion piece by New Energy Economy made several claims about this bill that are just not true. First, all savings realized by this bill must be passed on to ratepayers. The savings don’t go to Wall Street fat cats as their op-ed claims. Second, the Public Regulation Commission is still in the driver’s seat and can decide to approve these bonds or not. Third, these bonds are not financially backed in any way, shape, or form by the state or taxpayers.

I am sponsoring this bill because I believe protecting the environment and doing every single thing we can to fight global warming matters more than teaching PNM a lesson. For those who feel otherwise, I hope they can explain to my constituents why extracting a pound of flesh justifies their having to pay more on utility bills.

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