U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Mark W. Menezes said efforts to convert the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington into the world’s largest carbon-capture facility could make New Mexico a national and international leader for that technology.
Menezes visited Albuquerque on Monday, where he held two roundtable discussions with local industry leaders and some state legislators on the importance of the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, and on the prospect of converting the San Juan plant to carbon capture after the current owners abandon the facility in 2022.
The coal plant project could be a “game changer” that saves hundreds of local jobs and tens of millions in tax revenue, while encouraging other U.S. communities and countries to pursue that technology as well, he said.
“The breakthrough could happen here for this technology,” Menezes said.
The City of Farmington, which currently owns a 5% stake in San Juan, would inherit the full plant from Public Service Company of New Mexico and three other co-owners when they exit the facility. The city has said it wants to turn it over to private company Enchant Energy Corp., which expects to invest $1.3 billion to convert it to carbon capture technology.
Early this year, the DOE awarded a $17.5 million grant to New Mexico Tech in Socorro to study the potential for carbon captured at San Juan to be sequestered in saline reservoirs in the Four Corners Area as part of federal efforts to promote carbon capture as a way to keep coal plants from closing around the country.
During the afternoon roundtable, the DOE released a new report on San Juan that says carbon conversion would provide far more economic benefits than PNM plans to replace electricity from the plant with renewable resources.
At a separate roundtable on Thursday morning, the DOE released another report outlining the oil and gas industry’s critical contributions to New Mexico, and to the national economy.
At that streamed event, Menezes said fossil fuels remain essential alongside the adoption renewable generation.
American Exploration and Production Council CEO Anne Bradbury, who traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in the morning event, said election-year talk of limiting further oil and gas development makes discussion of the industry’s future important.
“We need to highlight the issues raised as a result of the elections,” Bradbury told the Journal.
Still, despite participation by some legislators, state officials said they were not consulted about Monday’s events.
“The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department was not invited to attend the roundtables…and given the current public health conditions and high risk of COVID 19 spread, we would not have participated in an in-person event,” EMNRD spokesperson Susan Torres told the Journal in an email.
The Department of Energy has no direct role in approving the carbon capture project although state permitting and regulatory agencies are expected to have a say in the planned private project.