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PNM chief: The facts are on our side

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Public Service Co. of New Mexico has faced some challenging times this year at the state Public Regulation Commission, where it’s battling for approval of a plan to shut down half of the San Juan Generating Station and to raise electric rates for the first time since 2011.a08_jd_14sept_collawncrop

“It’s not a lot of fun. It’s hard sometimes,” PNM Resources Chairman, President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn told the Albuquerque Economic Forum Wednesday morning. “It’s not surprising that these issues are controversial and they’ve inspired emotional debate.”

Vincent-Collawn provided a lengthy update to the business community on its plan to close two generating units at the coal-fired San Juan plant near Farmington and install pollution controls on the remaining two units to comply with federal haze regulations. The company wants to replace lost coal capacity with a mix of nuclear, natural gas and solar generation. But environmental groups, clean energy advocates and others have opposed the plan because PNM would absorb about 200 megawatts of excess capacity in one of the two units that remain open at San Juan to pick up slack from some co-owners who will leave the plant.

Vincent-Collawn said such restructuring plans are complex and highly technical, and as a result, they often get distorted.

“It can be pretty mind numbing, and you can mischaracterize the numbers and some folks are adept at that, but we have the facts on our side,” Vincent-Collawn said. “There’s been controversy with some saying PNM is taking more coal. PNM is getting more coal but 50 percent of the plant is still being shut down.”

In fact, with the proposed overhaul at San Juan, where PNM is majority owner alongside eight other co-owners — plus similar restructuring plans at the nearby Four Corners Generating Station where PNM is a minority owner — will together reduce the utility’s reliance on coal generation from 36 percent of electricity now to 28 percent, Vincent-Collawn said.

At the same time, renewable generation from wind, solar and geothermal resources will grow to nearly 16 percent by next year.

PNM’s wind generation increased by 50 percent this year, alone. And the utility is now completing construction on its latest solar facilities, bringing the number to 15 solar plants and $270 million in investments.

Taken together, all of PNM’s renewable resources will provide enough electricity to power 134,000 homes.

“Sometimes, in the heat of debate, we lose sight of all PNM has done to protect the environment,” Vincent-Collawn said. “We’re often not given enough credit for the large investments we’ve made in renewable energy.”

Meanwhile, PNM expects to refile its rate case in September, Vincent-Collawn said.

The PRC rejected the company’s rate case in May because of incomplete data to support its positions and spreadsheets that didn’t function online as needed. The commission didn’t rule on the merits of the utility’s rate case.

The company will continue to seek a 12 percent rate hike, mostly to pay for about $585 million in capital investments, including expenses for restructuring San Juan.

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