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PNM seeks to mitigate San Juan station impact

FARMINGTON – As the PNM-managed and partly owned San Juan Generating Station moves forward with plans to close two units without layoffs of company employees, workers not directly employed by the plant are wondering about the security of their jobs.

“The biggest issue I’m worried about is jobs and how it’s going to affect the economy in the region,” said George Riley, Four Corners area agent for the Plumber and Pipefitters Local Union 412.

Public Service Company of New Mexico, primary owner of San Juan Generating Station, filed documents with the Public Regulatory Commission seeking permission to proceed with a plan that would close two of four units at the coal-fired power station.

“We recognize that a two-unit shutdown at San Juan will have an economic impact. We are working to minimize that impact, and have made a commitment not to lay off SJGS employees as a result of the plant retirement,” stated Valerie Smith, PNM spokeswoman, in an email.

San Juan Generating Station employs nearly 400 people.

Riley said as many as 300 people could be working for different companies contracted by the power plant at various times, but he estimates about 50 are currently working.

Smith said the need for workers varies according to plant needs.

“Regarding contractors, third-party work at San Juan is cyclical by its very nature,” Smith wrote. “During large projects such as plant outages for maintenance, we may have dozens of contract workers on site, but during non-outage windows, there may be limited contract work that is ongoing. That’s one reason we use contractors for this type of cyclical work instead of full-time positions. We do anticipate that contractor work would be reduced on an ongoing basis as we move to two units instead of four.”

But Smith added that the power plant will be expecting to create jobs when it begins to install the emission-reduction technology and as the power plant begins to build the natural gas units.

Even though the plant plans to shut down two units and lose about 340 megawatts, PNM has plans to build a 177 megawatt natural-gas power facility to be used during times of peak demand, and to build a 40-megawatt solar facility.

PNM officials have stated the installation of emission controls would cost between $60 million to $80 million.

Riley, who said the jobs created by the emission-controls installation and natural gas plant would only be temporary, said he is also concerned about the long-term future for PNM customers because another part of PNM’s plan is to use 134 megawatts from Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.