Just two years ago, state political leaders, environmentalists and labor unions pushed for the Energy Transition Act, which required the state’s major electric utilities to get 100 percent of their power from carbon emission-free sources by 2045.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law in 2019.
Now, a trio of Democratic senators say the law needs some work.
Sens. William Tallman and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque and Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerrillos say they want to make “surgical” amendments to the law, including giving the state Public Regulation Commission full oversight over future coal plant closures and the authorization to approve or deny any plant-closing costs that might be passed onto consumers.
The new legislation, which Tallman said was filed Monday, also includes a clause extending the current 10-day deadline for filing appeals or motions for hearings on any such actions to 30 days.
“The bottom line is, we’re trying to help,” said Tallman. “The Energy Transition Act should have done a very good job providing environmental protection and consumer protection. It succeeded on the former and failed on the latter.”
He said the bill needs to be “rebalanced’ to ensure ratepayers don’t shoulder an unfair share of plant closure costs — which, critics say, will be the case with the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plan to shut down its San Juan Generating Station near Farmington by the end of 2022.
The state Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the law applies to the closure of San Juan. The law includes a clause enabling PNM to sell bonds that would be paid off by utility customers to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help offset the closure.
Critics say that will result in higher electric bills for customers. Advocates say it will actually save customers money.
One of the most ambitious and contentious laws passed during the 60-day legislative session of 2019, the Energy Transition Act made PNM’s closure of San Juan into something of a test case. The law includes job training programs for the renewable energy industry and assistance for laid-off coal workers.
Advocates say the bill will reduce emissions and go a long way in transitioning the state away from the use of fossil fuels.
Reactions to the proposal were mixed.
Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy and a frequent PNM critic, said she supports the amendments, noting they will help clarify the original language of the law.
She said the Public Regulation Commission should have full authority over coal plant closures, particularly with “plant abandonment costs so it can do what should be done: accept it, adjust it or deny it.”
But Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the proposed amendments are based on “misleading” information from critics or a lack of a full understanding of the bill.
“It’s unfortunate that we are spending time rehashing these claims when what we should be focusing on is getting meaningful carbon reductions into law for all of the greenhouse gas-producing industries — transportation, buildings, oil and gas,” she said.
Larry Behrens, spokesman for the Western States chapter of Power the Future, a nonprofit fossil fuel advocacy group that has opposed the Energy Transition Act, wrote in an email the proposed legislation proves initial concerns about rising electric bills for consumers were valid.
“Supporters of the Energy Transition Act were warned the law would destroy jobs and raise electric bills, but instead they decided to listen to radical environmentalists and now our families will be left holding the bill,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham said the Governor’s Office “will review legislation as it makes it way through the legislative process.”
Tallman, Stefanics and Sedillo Lopez each said Monday that while they supported the original bill, they did not always have time to ask more questions about it as it worked its way through the Legislature because of time constraints.
“The problem was, it was an 82-page bill that involves very technical issues” said Sedillo Lopez, who took office early in 2019. “I was brand new. It took me quite a while to digest it, understand it. I voted for it but believe now is the time to clean it up.”
Tallman in 2019 said “there were so many bills and so much pressure from environmental groups to pass this bill” that he voted for it, despite having some questions about some of its content.
Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces and one of the original sponsors of the act, said the PRC continues to play a “very active” role in plant closures and transformations that may fall under the act’s purview.
Of the proposed amendments, he said: “We should not be changing parts on this electric car ride as we are picking up steam creating jobs, investing in renewable energy and creating a cleaner New Mexico.”