Public Service Company of New Mexico said Friday it won’t agree to “stop the clock” on procedural deadlines in its request for regulators to approve plans for closing the aging, coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico.
The utility’s refusal to put the matter on hold while the state Public Regulation Commission determines whether the power plant shutdown falls under the state’s newly enacted Energy Transition Act or whether the matter should be reviewed under previous state law leaves the door open for a court battle.
A company spokesman said temporarily sidestepping the deadlines would amount to PNM giving up its due process rights and that delays would add to costs for electric ratepayers and others.
“PNM will not agree to the Commission casting PNM as a scapegoat for a procedural disarray of their own making,” spokesman Ray Sandoval said in a written statement. “The commission’s attempt to justify their actions as a form of ‘measured due process’ completely ignores the actual due process established by the Legislature, which passed the Energy Transition Act that was signed into law by Gov. [Michelle] Lujan Grisham.”
The elected regulatory body created a case docket for considering the power plant’s fate in January, prior to the Legislature and governor enacting the Energy Transition Act as part of a policy of moving the state toward replacing coal with renewable energy sources while trying to mitigate the economic impact. PNM, the state’s largest utility, subsequently submitted a proposal to close down the power plant under terms outlined in the new law.
Sandoval said it’s unprecedented for the commission “to create a docket and use it as a political weapon” to block a new state law.
“The more time that passes while the PRC asks parties to prove that the PRC should follow the law, the more costs are incurred by customers, taxpayers, and parties that need clarity from the PRC. Coal mine workers, who face the loss of their jobs as early as next summer, need the benefits granted in the [Energy Transition Act], not more procedural battles and delays.”
The new law provides about $40 million for communities affected by the closure of coal plants and mines to help develop new industries and retrain those workers.
Sandoval wouldn’t comment Friday on whether PNM would take the issue to court.
The commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to require PNM to declare whether it would be willing to “stop the clock” on the deadlines in the abandonment cases in order to give the commission more time to discuss which law should apply.
As it stands now, PNM will have to submit two separate abandonment plans — one as if the new law applies and one as if the old law does.
Commissioner Steve Fischmann, D-Las Cruces, who this week introduced the amendment that asked PNM to agree to stop the clock, said at Wednesday’s meeting he thought it would save time if the question of which law applies to the plant abandonment is settled up front.
The issue has prompted criticism of the commission by legislators as well as the governor. Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, has asked the Legislative Council to look at the possibility of beginning the process of impeaching some commissioners.