- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico regulators listened to testimony Wednesday on a plan by the state’s largest electric provider to shut down part of an aging coal-fired power plant that serves customers throughout the Southwest.

The Public Regulation Commission scheduled 90-minute afternoon and evening sessions in the Farmington council chambers on PNM’s proposal to shut down two units of the San Juan Generating Station.

The public-comment period follows weeks of evidentiary hearings that wrapped up in late January in Santa Fe. A hearing examiner will make a recommendation to the commission, and it could be months before a final decision is made.

PNM has proposed replacing the lost power from the two units at the power plant with a mix of coal from one of the plant’s other units, electricity generated by the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona, a new natural gas-fired plant and more solar generating stations. PNM’s regulatory filings estimate the cost over 20 years at more than $6.8 billion. The utility says its plan represents the most cost-effective alternative for dealing with federal environmental mandates that call for reducing emissions at San Juan.

But critics are concerned the utility could end up acquiring more coal power to fill the gap, and that could end up costing customers more.

More than 150 people filled the City Council chambers on Wednesday afternoon to hear or offer public comments over an application by the Public Service Company of New Mexico to close two units at a local power generating station, with a heavy majority of those in attendance supporting the plan.

Despite the health and environmental risks that were raised over the plant, supporters said the power plant brought a number of good things to the region including good-paying jobs, a reliable power supply and a steady source of revenue.

Chris Hunter, the regional manager for the statewide nonprofit business group WESST, endorsed the plan and praised the contributions of the facility to the area’s economic health.

“PNM has been an excellent corporate citizen,” Hunter said. “Taken together, the environmental improvements the plan will make, the importance of jobs that we simply are not able to replace in our community with anywhere near the level of pay and benefits that PNM and the San Juan mine afford, and the importance of these facilities to our small business community and tax base, lead me again to ask for your support of the plan.”

San Juan County CEO Kim Carpenter said the county, which he said has seen a $53 million loss in revenues over the last five years, would be further impacted if PNM’s plan were not realized.

“PNM and the mine both are significant property taxpayers for San Juan County,” Carpenter said. “The loss of those revenues would be devastating for a number of reasons - the children within the school district adjacent to the site would be affected, the college’s funds would be affected and, obviously, the county’s general fund.”

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Information from: The Daily Times, https://www.daily-times.com

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