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Energy transition bill moves toward House vote

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A solar system installed by Picuris Pueblo, as shown last year. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A proposal to reshape New Mexico’s energy future – by moving entirely to clean energy over the next 25 years – is nearing passage in the Legislature.

The legislation, Senate Bill 489, survived its final committee hearing Monday and has only one more stop – approval by the full House – before it could move on to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose administration has turned out in force to testify in favor of the bill.

The measure would provide financial help to Public Service Company of New Mexico as it closes a coal-fired power plant in the Four Corners area.

It would also establish requirements for PNM and other public utilities to shift to carbon-free energy generation by 2045. They would have to derive 50 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.

A mix of environmental and business groups turned out in favor of the bill during a three-hour hearing at the Capitol. It struck the right balance, they said, among a variety of interests – the environment, PNM and its customers, and the economy in the Four Corners area.

Sanders Moore of Environment New Mexico, an environmental advocacy group, said New Mexico is among the sunniest and windiest states in the nation – strengths that support the transition to clean energy.

“We have world-class renewable energy resources we should be taking advantage of,” Moore said.

Opponents included coal miners and elected leaders from San Juan County. They said the closure of the plant would damage the Four Corners economy and the ability to provide public services.

Some opponents said local workers will be left behind while PNM benefits.

“Mining is the only thing I know,” one man told lawmakers. “We’re not just numbers. We’re humans.”

Rep. Nathan Small, a Las Cruces Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation, said broader market forces – not the bill itself – are forcing closure of the San Juan Generating Station. Approval of the legislation, he said, would cost PNM customers less than if no action is taken.

“There has been an amazing amount of work that has gone into this legislation,” Small said.

The bill would allow fixed-rate bonds to be issued to help PNM recover the costs associated with the transition to new energy sources.

It also authorizes creation of two new funds for economic development and worker re-training to mitigate the impact of closing the San Juan coal plant and mine.

The state Senate voted 32-9 to pass the legislation last week and approval by the House is the last step required to send it to Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office Jan. 1.

If the bill is amended on the floor, however, it will go back to the Senate.

A half-dozen of the top officials in Lujan Grisham’s administration spoke in favor of the bill during Monday’s meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted 10-3 to advance the bill, with just five days left in the session.

The proposal will head to the House floor next.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told the miners and others that he’s sympathetic to their concerns. Passage of the bill, he said, doesn’t preclude the state from taking other steps in a future legislative session – if a better deal arises that would, for example, keep the plant operating.

“This is not the first, last and only thing we’re going to try to do to help the community,” Egolf said.

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