New Mexico utility seeks feedback on closure of coal plant

New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — In what’s expected to be a long, contentious process, a few dozen people gathered recently in Albuquerque for the first public meeting hosted by Public Service Co. of New Mexico on the planned shutdown of its coal-fired power plant.

PNM, the state’s largest electric utility, is seeking feedback on four proposed options for replacing the power that will be lost when the San Juan Generating Station closes in 2022.

The proposals are outlined in a filing made earlier this month with the Public Regulation Commission.

Regulators will review the options in public hearings over the next nine to 15 months.

PNM also will hold meetings in August with organizations that want to test potential changes in the different scenarios using modeling tools to determine costs and feasibility.

According to the utility, the least costly option for ratepayers would involve replacing San Juan’s capacity with a mix of solar, wind, natural gas and battery storage systems. Critics have said natural gas plants would also have to close eventually if PNM wants to meet its goal and state mandates of being emissions-free in a couple decades.

The other alternatives address different public preferences, including two that would eliminate new natural gas generation entirely and one that relies almost entirely on a new natural gas plant located in San Juan County.

That option would allow the utility to offset the local economic effects of closing the coal-fired plant by offering some new jobs and property tax income.

PNM Vice President for Public Policy Ron Darnell said during Thursday’s meeting the utility wants to offer the public opportunities for direct input.

“By filing four scenarios, we can offer stakeholders, citizens and the PRC an open, transparent process to forge a new path together,” Darnell said. “The PRC filing is just the beginning of the process.”

The Albuquerque Journal reported that PNM’s proposals spurred broad questions and comments from participants, foreshadowing robust debate as the regulatory process moves forward.

About 50 people — mostly representatives from environmental and energy-related organizations — attended the meeting in person. Others participated online through a live webcast.

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