The Public Regulation Commission does not have the authority to compel a company to begin the legal process of shutting down a power plant, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled.
The opinion, released Thursday, does not change Public Service Company of New Mexico’s pending abandonment of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington. PNM, the state’s largest utility, is scheduled to stop operating the plant in 2022.
But the opinion lays down a precedent in stark terms: The commission cannot require an electric utility to apply for approval to abandon a power plant.
“We appreciate the Commission’s commitment to guarding public interest and ensuring proper safeguards in the course of abandonment of a public utility,” the court’s opinion stated. “While those interests are sound, we nevertheless reiterate that the Legislature has not conferred upon the Commission the authority to initiate an abandonment proceeding as an avenue to ensure compliance with Commission directives.”
Companies may do that voluntarily, or the PRC may ask the Attorney General’s Office to compel such an application, according to the opinion.
The PRC also does not have the authority to decide whether a state law applies to a plant closure.
That issue became central in New Mexico politics when PRC hearing examiners had drawn out proceedings weighing whether the Energy Transition Act — a 2019 renewable energy law — applied to the San Juan case. The law includes provisions allowing PNM to recoup costs related to shutting down the plant.
“Allowing the Commission the discretion to select which statutory scheme does or does not apply would impermissibly invade the province of the Legislature, thus violating the carefully balanced separation of powers established by our state constitution,” the court’s opinion said.
PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval declined to comment on the opinion.
PRC chief of staff Jason Montoya and a spokeswoman for the commission did not respond to inquiries Thursday regarding the opinion.