PNM ad blasts New Energy Economy over opposition to bill

The full-page ad paid for by the shareholders of PNM Resources, the parent company of Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Shareholders of New Mexico’s fourth-largest publicly traded company — a firm that owns the state’s largest electric utility — purchased a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s edition of The New Mexican to blast a small local nonprofit for opposing a bill that would have benefited the firm.

“Congratulations New Energy Economy on your defeat of SB47,” says the tongue-in-cheek ad paid for by the shareholders of PNM Resources, the parent company of Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Senate Bill 47, titled the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act, would have allowed PNM to sell bonds to recoup losses from the planned closing of a coal-burning power plant in northwestern New Mexico. It also would have provided up to $19 million in aid to residents of San Juan County affected by the shutdown of both the plant and the nearby coal mine that supplies it.

Last year, the utility said it planned to end its reliance on coal power by 2031 and expected to close the San Juan Generating Station by as early as 2022.

SB 47 stalled two weeks ago when the Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-4 to table it, making it doubtful the bill would pass through both chambers of the Legislature by noon Thursday, the end of the legislative session. House Bill 80, an identical bill, has not yet been heard by a House committee.

Mayor Mark Duncan of Kirtland, a town near Farmington, was one of several San Juan County people who spoke in favor of the bill during the Senate Conservation Committee hearing. He had likened the situation to Raton, a onetime booming coal-mining town.

“People are going to be moving away. Houses will be vacant,” Duncan warned, urging the committee to move the measure forward.

But Santa Fe-based New Energy Economy’s executive director, Mariel Nanasi, who frequently has challenged PNM’s energy plans and its efforts to raise revenue through rate increases, called the bill a bailout for PNM, with customers footing the tab.

During a hearing on the bill, Nanasi and other critics argued it also would weaken the regulatory commission’s oversight of the utility.

Wednesday’s ad appears to solely blame Nanasi’s renewable energy advocacy group for the bill’s failure.

“Your tireless work to undermine the coalition of environmental organizations who worked for months on this bill means … missing out on a historic opportunity to make New Mexico a leader in sustainable energy,” the ad says. It also accuses the nonprofit of “turning your back on vital economic and workforce transition help for the Farmington families affected by the San Juan coal plant closure.”

In an interview Wednesday, Nanasi said, “PNM was using genuine concern for Farmington families as a Trojan horse to skirt [Public Regulation Commission] regulations and oversight, and we couldn’t let this happen.

“We are honored and proud that the environmental community as a whole defeated SB 47 and protected New Mexicans from skyrocketing electric bills,” Nanasi added, “because SB 47 was a billion-dollar bailout for ratepayers to PNM for their poor business decisions.”

Nanasi said New Energy Economy wasn’t the bill’s only opponent. Letters opposing the bill were signed by 42 organizations and sent to Senate and House leaders, she said, along with over 1,000 emails and an online petition to Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and House Speaker Brian Egolf, both Santa Fe Democrats.

Wirth had said he supported PNM’s goal of closing the coal-fired plant by 2022 and the “local economic transition fund” to aid San Juan County residents, but he agreed with critics who argued the bill would reduce competition for the renewable energy market and lessen the Public Regulation Commission’s oversight of PNM.

The utility had negotiated with environmental groups over the bill, but they didn’t reach a consensus.

PNM spokesman Pahl Shipley, in an email Wednesday in response to questions about the ad, said the Senate committee’s decision to table the bill “is a huge setback for New Mexico’s transition to sustainable energy.”

The shareholders’ ad encourages the public to contact New Energy Economy and provides a phone number and email address for the organization.

The ad says: “Tell New Mexico’s environmental advocates that you care less about obstructionist politics and more about protecting the environment and making New Mexico a leader in renewable energy.”

Contact Andy Stiny at 505-986-3007 or astiny@sfnewmexican.com.