AG forming task force for energy emergencies - Albuquerque Journal

AG forming task force for energy emergencies

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

With summer heat waves and other extreme weather events becoming more common, Attorney General Hector Balderas is convening a new statewide task force to hammer out rapid-response plans to protect the public in case of blackouts or other energy-system failures.

Although first responders and most public agencies already have individual emergency plans in place, an “all-of-government” approach is critical for broad, state-level coordination and preparedness, Balderas said in a letter sent this week to numerous public and private entities.

Balderas is inviting local, state and tribal government officials – along with first responders and other entities – to participate in a new Energy Security Investigation and Emergency Preparedness Task Force.

Attorney General Hector Balderas

Balderas said New Mexico and the West experienced a record heat wave last summer, and such events will likely increase in frequency and severity as the pace of climate change continues, straining utility systems and increasing the risk of power outages.

“As such, we are spearheading the work that must be done to ensure the state is prepared for a worst-case scenario,” Balderas said in his letter. “We know many different agencies are closely monitoring this situation as well, and working diligently towards a similar goal. With this in mind, the Office of the Attorney General would like to take steps to unite these interests and collectively address the problems we are facing, and ensure we are moving forward with a plan should these heat events occur.”

Concern is growing throughout the West about regional energy shortages as extreme summer heat, intense winter chills, massive wildfires and severe drought continually stress electric grids everywhere. Those problems make it more challenging to ensure a steady flow of electricity in all situations as states transition from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants – which provide round-the-clock electricity – to intermittent solar and wind generation.

Those issues are now especially resonating locally after Public Service Company of New Mexico warned this month it could face significant energy shortages when it abandons the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station this summer, and after power-supply leases with the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona expire next year.

New solar replacement power won’t be ready in time to cover the loss of San Juan this summer, nor Palo Verde generation in summer 2023, because of pandemic-induced supply-chain issues – plus delays in getting regulatory approval for the new solar plants – according to PNM.

PNM now plans to extend some San Juan operations through this summer to alleviate projected power shortages. But potential blackouts still loom for summer 2023 and, even with the San Juan extension, any extended heat wave could still cause energy shortages and possible power outages this summer, Balderas warned.

“While PNM put forth a plan to address the shortage for this summer, it does not eliminate the risk of a widespread outage or address the shortage next summer,” Balderas said in his letter. “Accordingly, vulnerable populations including children, elderly, economically disadvantaged groups, and those with chronic health conditions are at a heightened risk in the event of an outage.”

Balderas wants the task force to establish a “vulnerable populations risk assessment” for emergency preparedness, plus detailed plans to provide critical resources where needed with efficient cross-coordination and public outreach.

“Conversations with task force participants are already underway,” Balderas told the Journal. “I plan to convene the first full meeting in mid-March.”

Balderas also wants a broad “energy security” risk assessment done to ensure that electricity and such other fuels as propane are consistently available for consumers in all seasons for heating, cooling and other essential needs.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General is separately examining state Public Regulation Commission decisions and policies in response to concerns that PRC reluctance to approve more backup generation for PNM, plus alleged delays in approving new solar power projects, may have contributed to today’s energy challenges.

Commission Chair Joseph Maestas said he welcomes the attorney general’s review of PRC policies and decisions. But the real cause of today’s grid problems are pandemic-induced supply-chain issues, which are undermining the ability of nearly all local utilities to adequately maintain their electric systems.

Next Wednesday, commissioners will discuss a letter they’ve drafted for the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management that outlines the statewide utility problems and calls for coordinated government action, Maestas said.

“I applaud the attorney general for taking the lead to begin a coordinated process across multiple agencies,” Maestas told the Journal. “That’s what it will take to mitigate these supply-chain issues.”

PNM also welcomed the attorney general’s initiative. PNM has detailed emergency-response plans in place for all situations, but public and private entities need to work together, said Vice President of Operations Todd Fridley.

“The benefit of informing the public about today’s challenges is now a more coordinated response by government and the private sector to deal with some of these contingencies if we ever have to put them into practice,” Fridley said in an email to the Journal.

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