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Maestas wins PRC District 3 primary

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Former Española Mayor Joseph Maestas has apparently won the Democratic Party nomination to the Public Regulation Commission’s District 3 seat in northern New Mexico.

Joseph Maestas

Final results from Tuesday’s primary are still pending. But with total votes counted in 293 of the 434 precincts as of Friday afternoon, Maestas had 58% of the votes, making him the unofficial winner over lawyer Brian Harris, who has conceded defeat.

“It’s not official, but I believe the lead is pretty much insurmountable,” Maestas told the Journal.

Maestas now faces Libertarian Party candidate Chris Luchini in the November election.

No Republican is running in District 3 for the PRC, a five-member body that regulates everything from utilities and telecommunications to transportation companies and the pipeline safety bureau.

The PRC District 1 seat in central New Mexico is also on the November ballot, pitting Democratic Commissioner Cynthia Hall, who is seeking election to a second term, against Republican candidate Janice Arnold Jones. Neither faced opposition in Tuesday’s primaries.

The November elections could influence PRC decisions regarding the state’s Energy Transition Act, which requires public utilities to convert the grid to 80% renewable energy by 2040 and to completely carbon-free generation by 2045. The PRC must oversee much of the transition, including the shutdown of fossil fuel facilities, choosing energy resources to replace them, and balancing consumer and utility interests when setting rates.

Maestas, an engineer, said he would work to fully implement the energy law at the PRC, but without disproportionately impacting ratepayers.

“I support the ETA’s goals to achieve a clean energy future and close coal power plants,” Maestas said in a pre-primary Journal questionnaire. “I will fight for consumers through advocacy and expanded energy efficiency and management.”

Luchini, a physicist who worked for NASA and briefly for Los Alamos National Laboratory, said he wants to bring a “scientific perspective” to the PRC that considers new, innovative technologies when transforming the grid. Luchini, who chairs the Libertarian Party, is a private business owner involved in research and development of new energy technologies, including the capture of heat from depleted gas wells for geothermal generation.

In the District 1 race, the candidates differ sharply on the new energy law.

Hall supports it.

“For me, it’s exactly what I want, to work for clean, sustainable energy in the state,” Hall said.

In contrast, former House representative Arnold Jones said the law forces the state to exclusively adopt renewable energy over other sources while placing the burden on ratepayers.

“I’m not a fan,” Arnold said. “It’s extremely limiting when there may be better energy sources to ensure cheap, stable and reliable power.”

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