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Supreme Court blocks PRC San Juan case

The San Juan Generating Station and San Juan Mine.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state Supreme Court on Friday ordered an “emergency stay” on Public Regulation Commission proceedings on abandonment of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico had petitioned the court on Wednesday to block the PRC’s Jan. 30 order that would have forced the utility to submit an application for plant abandonment by March 1.

The commission ignored a request that PNM filed last week to reconsider its order, which had obligated PNM to detail all costs, impacts and plans associated with the San Juan shutdown, something the utility expects to file in mid-2019.

PNM said it was impossible to comply with a March 1 filing, since it lacks the basic information needed, including selection and cost estimates for alternative energy resources to replace San Juan. The utility also said the order exceeded commission authority by forcing the company to involuntarily initiate an abandonment proceeding of property that’s still serving the public, something that must be a “voluntary act” under state law, according to PNM.

The PRC’s proceedings could also interfere with the state Legislature’s authority to set policy, creating legal issues about whether Senate Bill 489, known as the Energy Transition Act, could be applicable to a proceeding already underway at the PRC, according to PNM. The bill would create a financial mechanism to help the utility cover the costs of the San Juan shutdown.

PNM also petitioned the Supreme Court to force the PRC to rescind its Jan. 30 order for an abandonment application.

The Supreme Court’s Friday ruling orders parties in the case to file responses to PNM’s petition by March 19, three days after the current legislative session ends.

“The New Mexico Supreme Court has granted a temporary stay to allow time to assess our request,” said PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval in an email to the Journal. “We hope that ultimately our Legislature, our new governor, and our company can finish the work needed so PNM can file a complete application addressing the abandonment and replacement of the San Juan Generating Station in front of the PRC.”