On Tuesday, Enchant Energy gave a presentation to the Senate Finance Committee riddled with falsehoods. This profiteering investment group is asking New Mexicans to double down on carbon capture at the San Juan coal-burning plant — a scheme that could prove disastrous, not just for Farmington but for New Mexico taxpayers who could be left holding the bag if the project fails.
Let’s remember why the Public Service Company of New Mexico is electing to shut down San Juan. PNM found that continuing to operate the aging plant was almost $400 million more expensive than replacing it with lower-cost clean energy.
With carbon capture, PNM calculates it could be up to $1.3 billion more expensive for PNM to operate San Juan than abandon and replace the plant.
Enchant touts the single post combustion carbon capture project running in the U.S., called Petra Nova, as a success.
In fact, it is such an economic failure that NRG Energy Inc., the owner, has said it will never do another carbon capture project. NRG acknowledged to investors that it is unlikely to ever recoup its losses of more than $200 million in investments in the project.
The story is the same at the only other carbon-capture project operating in the world at a power plant, SaskPower’s Boundary Dam project in Canada. Just like NRG, SaskPower said it would not install carbon capture on any other of its power plants.
Farmington is asking the Public Regulation Commission to require PNM to buy electricity from Enchant. At the same time, Farmington and Enchant have repeatedly said electricity from San Juan will be so cheap that they will have no trouble finding buyers. So why are they asking the commission to force PNM to buy electricity from Enchant? What kind of business needs the government to force customers to buy its product?
Enchant likes to say it is not seeking any state money for its project. But House Bill 318, Oil & Gas Tax Changes, was just introduced to give massive tax breaks to any oil and gas companies who buy CO2 from Enchant. Enchant’s PR claims about not asking for money from the state are contradicted by its efforts to get huge tax giveaways from our state.
Why should New Mexicans care if a private corporation like Enchant makes a bad decision? Because Farmington is proposing to assign to Enchant, a small corporation with unknown assets, nearly all liability for future cleanup of damage caused by the plant. And who will be left holding the bag if Enchant goes bankrupt and can’t fund the toxic cleanup? You guessed it — you and other New Mexico taxpayers.
Enchant likes to tell us that they’re investing in “environmental technology.” But Enchant wants to pipe the captured CO2 to frackers in the Permian to extract more oil and gas, causing more damage to our climate and lands. This makes a mockery of the intent of carbon capture and sequestration.
Instead of directly sequestering the CO2 from the plant, the CO2 will be used to produce other fossil fuels, which will be burned and generate more CO2. This is no solution to the climate crisis.
Why take that massive risk on carbon capture when there are already proven clean energy options that generate low-cost power and can transition us to a clean energy future? Why make false promises to the community when the evidence for success is just not there?
As the PRC considers how to replace the polluting, coal-powered energy at San Juan, let’s choose a path that makes sense and sets up New Mexico to tap its abundant, local and low-cost clean energy.
Camilla Feibelman is the director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter.