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Hearing officer backs PNM plan for San Juan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A hearing examiner at the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is recommending that the PRC approve a settlement agreement on the future of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

Ashley Schannauer released a recommended decision on Monday advising commissioners to approve the agreement, which Public Service Co. of New Mexico, environmental groups, the Attorney General’s Office and the PRC’s utility division staff signed last August.

Under the agreement, PNM would shut two of the plant’s four generating units and install pollution controls on the remaining ones to meet federal mandates to reduce haze from the plant. The utility would replace lost power with a mix of nuclear, natural gas and solar energy.

But PNM would be allowed to absorb excess capacity from departing plant co-owners in one of the units that will remain operating, something most environmentalists and clean energy advocates had previously opposed. To win their support, PNM agreed to a new PRC review of San Juan in 2018 to determine whether more or all of the plant should be shut down after 2022. It also agreed to lower ratepayer costs for nuclear energy to replace lost coal generation, and to support more renewable energy development in the next few years.

Schannauer’s support for the settlement, which now goes to the five commissioners, drew praise from PNM.

“We’re pleased with the hearing examiner’s recommendation, which clearly outlines the benefits of the settlement agreement for PNM customers and for the state,” said Ron Darnell, PNM senior vice president for public policy.

Chuck Noble, attorney for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, also praised the settlement.

“It shuts down two coal units, cuts plant emissions in half, results in significant additional renewable generation, and provides potential for more reductions at the coal plant in 2022,” Noble told the Journal.

However, the Santa Fe-based environmental group New Energy Economy remains opposed, advocating instead for more of the plant to be shut down immediately and more renewables added to the grid. On Monday, New Energy called Schannauer’s decision “a sad day for the environment and a sad day for New Mexico.”

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