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PNM blames environmental group for death of coal bill

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Public Service Company of New Mexico wants to stir a public backlash against the Santa Fe-based environmental group New Energy Economy for its role in defeating a legislative bill this month that could have accelerated the utility’s replacement of coal-fired generation with renewable energy.

In a full-page ad in The Santa Fe New Mexican on Wednesday, PNM offered NEE a tongue-in-cheek “congratulations” on the defeat of Senate Bill 47, which would have allowed the utility to recover all its investments in abandoned coal plants by selling low-cost bonds to investors and then using the proceeds to build more renewable generation.

NEE led a coalition of 40 grassroots organizations against the bill, which it called a ratepayer “bailout” since PNM customers would have paid back the bonds through a surcharge on customers’ bills, thus rewarding PNM for what NEE said was a “bad business decision” to continue investing in coal in recent years.

That helped sway the Senate Conservation Committee, which voted 5-4 on Feb. 3 to table the bill, thus killing it in this session.

Despite the NEE-led opposition, nearly a dozen other prominent environmental organizations participated in negotiations with PNM, leading to amendments that committed the utility to procure at least 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

In its ad, PNM accused NEE of deliberately undermining those efforts through “grudge politics and game playing.” It blamed the group for derailing a “historic opportunity” to convert New Mexico into a leader in sustainable energy, and called on the public to hold NEE accountable.

“This is a huge setback for New Mexico’s transition to sustainable energy,” said PNM spokesman Pahl Shipley in an email to the Journal. “We need to get past political grudges and games and start working together to create a better future for all of us.”

NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi rejected what she called PNM’s “bullying” tactics.

“We’re proud and honored that SB47 was defeated and that we helped protect New Mexico ratepayers against a huge bailout for PNM that could have led to significantly higher electric bills,” Nanasi said.

PNM’s ad does reflect significant differences among local environmental organizations about how best to phase out coal generation.

NEE says it’s adamantly committed to that goal, but in a low-income state like New Mexico, it must also defend ratepayers’ pocketbooks.

But Steve Michel of Western Resource Advocates, which participated in negotiations with PNM, said NEE’s tactics appear more anti-utility than pro-environment. In the end, not enough amendments could be negotiated to build broad consensus behind SB47, but the groups involved made major advances.

“NEE did not participate and worked pretty hard to obstruct that progress,” Michel said.

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