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Public debate begins on San Juan shutdown

The San Juan Generating Station

The San Juan Generating Station. (Richard Pipes/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Public Service Company of New Mexico held its first open public meeting Thursday on the planned shutdown of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, marking the start of what could be a long, contentious process to transition the grid to carbon-free electricity.

About 50 people attended in person, mostly representatives from environmental and energy-related organizations. Others participated online through a live webcast from the Albuquerque Museum in Old Town where the meeting took place.

PNM executives said the utility wants feedback on four plant-shutdown and power-replacement options it proposed in a July 1 filing with the state Public Regulation Commission. The utility is proposing a “least-cost” option, or “scenario,” to replace San Juan power with a mix of solar, wind, natural gas and battery storage systems.

But it also offered three alternative scenarios to address different public preferences, including two that would eliminate new natural gas generation entirely, and one that, in contrast, relies almost entirely on a new natural gas plant located in San Juan County, allowing the utility to offset the local impact of closing the coal plant by offering new jobs and property tax income.

The PRC will review the different options in public hearings over the next nine to 15 months. But the utility wants to offer the public opportunities for direct input, said PNM Vice President for Public Policy Ron Darnell.

“By filing four scenarios, we can offer stakeholders, citizens and the PRC an open, transparent process to forge a new path together,” Darnell told participants. “The PRC filing is just the beginning of the process. We want to affirm our commitment to keep working with you and keep stakeholders up to date as much as possible going forward.”

As part of that process, PNM will hold meetings in August with organizations that want to test potential changes in the different scenarios using utility modeling tools to determine costs and feasibility of adding or eliminating things.

“We’ll give everyone access to the necessary data and models,” said PNM Integrated Resource Planning Director Nicholas Phillips. “We hope to be as open and transparent as possible.”

PNM’s proposals spurred broad questions and comments from participants, foreshadowing robust debate ahead as the regulatory process moves forward.

 

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