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Renewable energy proposal to resurface next session

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque

SANTA FE — A complex proposal aimed at boosting the use of renewable energy in New Mexico — and helping the PNM recoup its investment in abandoned coal plants — is showing signs of life ahead of the 2019 legislative session.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said Tuesday that he’s trying to negotiate a solution following the defeat of a similar bill last session. He was part of a bipartisan group that co-sponsor the legislation.

“I think we’re really close on a lot of this,” he said in an interview. “It all comes down to whether people want to negotiate in good faith.”

Candelaria asked his legislative colleagues during a committee meeting Tuesday to consider the issue during meetings later this year, as they prepare for the 60-day session that begins in January.

The earlier proposal, Senate Bill 47, emerged as one of the most contentious bills considered by the Legislature this year. Negotiations among Public Service Company of New Mexico, environmental groups and others failed to produce an agreement, and the legislation died on a 5-4 vote in the Senate Conservation Committee.

The harshest critics called it a bailout of PNM.

A coalition of business and labor groups supported the proposal — partly as a way to help San Juan County in the Four Corners area, where a slowdown in the natural gas industry has hit the community hard.

“It’s the most important thing to our constituents in these counties,” House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said Tuesday during a meeting of the state’s Economic and Rural Development Committee.

He broached the idea of breaking the legislation into separate bills, though he acknowledged he wasn’t sure whether that would help or hurt.

The final version of the bill that failed this year had several components. It would have allowed PNM to issue low-interest bonds — repaid by customers over a 20-year period — to ease the financial burden as the company abandons coal plants, a financial mechanism called “securitization.”

PNM would also have been required to get at least 50 percent of its power through renewable sources by 2030, a much more ambitious goal than what’s in place now.

The proposal also called for economic aid to San Juan County, where coal plants are located.

Liliana Castillo, a spokeswoman for Conservation Voters New Mexico, one of the groups involved in the talks, said her organization is “hopeful” about the prospects for a revised bill next session.

“We at CVNM believe securitization can be accomplished in 2019,” she said, “built upon the same framework that we ended 2018 with — a commitment for funding to assist with the economic transition in the Four Corners area and a commitment to renewable energy.”

Ray Sandoval, a PNM spokesman, said the company is meeting with stakeholders “to determine what is in the best interest for the San Juan County community, our customers, our shareholders, and the State of New Mexico.”

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