Hearing examiners are recommending the state Public Regulation Commission replace power from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico with renewable energy sources.
Under the plan, Public Service Company of New Mexico would pursue energy projects on tribal land and within the school district where the Farmington-area power plant currently contributes taxes. PNM is scheduled to abandon the plant in 2022.
Another company, Enchant Energy, has plans to purchase the plant and continue operating it after retrofitting it with a carbon-capture system. It is still unclear if the bid will be successful.
In the meantime, PRC hearing examiners have proposed the commission approve PNM projects that would provide 650 megawatts of solar power and 300 megawatts of battery storage to back up the solar energy.
The plan would be in line with requirements from a 2019 state energy law that mandates emissions-free electricity production by 2045.
Recommendations include an overall $447 million in investment in the school district where the coal plant now operates. A majority of the power and $430 million more in investment would be located in McKinley County and in the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Rio Arriba County, according to the PRC examiners’ recommendation.
PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval said in a statement the company supports an alternative to the 100 percent renewable option that “balances the equally important factors of financial help to the Four Corners region, the environment, customers’ pocketbooks and keeping the lights on around the clock.”
The proposal is being praised by environmental groups for its reliance on renewable energy and rejection of PNM’s plan to replace some of the San Juan power with 280 megawatts of natural gas energy by building a proposed Piñon Gas Plant in Waterflow.
Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the renewable energy advocacy group New Energy Economy, said in a statement the nonprofit had “argued successfully that PNM’s plan should be rejected because there was no technical or economic reason to continue to rely on any fossil fuels.”
The Sierra Club also supports 100 percent renewable energy to replace the San Juan power. Camilla Feibelman, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter, called on PRC members to adopt the recommendation.
“Polluting coal at San Juan can now be replaced with 100 percent renewable energy and battery storage,” Feibelman said. “... The hearing examiners have shown that PNM’s gas-heavy alternatives aren’t necessary.”
Commissioners in April rejected a previous recommended energy portfolio following concerns from some commissioners that not enough of the power would be located within the Central Consolidated School District near Farmington.
Hearing examiners also outlined a less preferred option that includes solar, battery and natural gas projects.
Commissioners will now consider the recommendation in ongoing discussions and have not yet settled on any particular energy options.