- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Members of a powerful New Mexico regulatory body are too “chummy” with utility executives and should not be allowed to make decisions about the fate of a coal-fired power plant that serves customers around the Southwest, according to the latest pleadings of an environmental group.

The Santa Fe-based New Energy Economy filed a motion late Wednesday with the Public Regulation Commission, seeking the recusal of four of the panel’s five members.

The motion hinges on 100 pages of exhibits that detail numerous emails and phone calls that make reference to private meetings, dinners, coffee dates and invitations to conferences and sporting events.

The documents show one commissioner attended a VIP tour of an Arizona nuclear power plant with executives from Public Service Co. of New Mexico earlier this summer, and another requested a campaign donation last year from the utility’s political action committee for the Democratic nominee for state treasurer.

The motion also points to recent statements made by some commissioners, indicating the case has been decided even though public hearings on the latest proposal have yet to be held.

“There’s no possible way we can have a fair hearing on the merits of the case. The influence of PNM has just been tremendous,” said Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy.

She suggested the evidence outlined in the motion represents “the tip of an iceberg of an inappropriate relationship” between the commission and PNM.

The motion targets Commission Chairwoman Karen Montoya and Commissioners Patrick Lyons, Lynda Lovejoy and Sandy Jones.

Public Regulation Commission spokesman Carlos Padilla said the filing was being reviewed by legal counsel, and the commission did not immediate have a comment.

PNM described the motion as baseless, saying there was no inappropriate communication between the utility and any of the commissioners.

PNM spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter also took aim at New Energy Economy’s claims that the utility isn’t interested in pursuing renewable energy. The utility has increased its wind energy by 50 percent, and it will have a total of 15 solar generating stations online by the end of the year, she said.

The commission is considering a plan by PNM that calls for shuttering part of the San Juan Generating Station in an effort to meet federal standards for haze-causing pollution. The lost capacity would be replaced with a mix of coal, nuclear, natural gas and renewable energy.

Environmentalists and some consumer advocates have voiced concerns about PNM’s plan, saying acquiring more coal-generated power would leave the utility and its ratepayers vulnerable to the costs of future pollution regulations. They have pushed for more solar and wind power.

PNM and business groups argue the plan is the most cost-effective for customers.

The commission earlier this year granted PNM more time to produce documents related to the plant’s future ownership makeup and a coal supply contract after a hearing examiner raised questions about the lack of information from the utility.

Commissioner Valerie Espinoza of Santa Fe has been the only member to vote against giving the utility more time.

The commission is scheduled to begin taking testimony on the latest proposal Aug. 28, and a hearing on the matter is scheduled to begin Oct. 13.

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