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Energy Bonds Bill Called "Blank Check" for NM's Largest Utility Company

Two units have been shut down at New Mexico's coal-fired San Juan Generating Station as of Dec. 31, 2017.  (sierraclub.org)
Two units have been shut down at New Mexico's coal-fired San Juan Generating Station as of Dec. 31, 2017. (sierraclub.org)
January 29, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. — A bill that would allow Public Service Company of New Mexico to issue bonds to pay for the shutdown of its coal-fired plants in the Four Corners region goes to the Conservation Committee at the Roundhouse tomorrow.

Critics say Senate Bill 47 allows PNM to pass-on the $350 million plant closure cost to ratepayers, but does not guarantee replacement energy will be the lowest-cost option or will come from renewable sources. A coalition of more than two dozen statewide organizations have signed a letter opposing the bill.

Supporters of the bill claim it would help protect jobs and the economy. But Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, said there's nothing in the bill that would protect workers or require cleanup of the site.

"This is a blank check to PNM,” Nanasi said. “It would compensate PNM for all un-depreciated costs in their coal plants, all reclamation and decommissioning and the same possibly in their nuclear plants."

The bill’s supporters argued that 13 other states have used a similar bonding mechanism when shutting down coal or nuclear power plants. But Nanashi called New Mexico bonding bill premature, because PNM's plan has yet to be vetted with the state's regulatory agency.

Many families in New Mexico already are living in "energy poverty" - meaning they spend more than 10 percent of their income to pay utility bills. In fact, in many counties across New Mexico, the average household energy costs range from 24-50 percent.

Nanasi argued that the bill is an end-run around the state's regulatory commission, which in the past has ruled that PNM should share cost burdens with rate-payers, 50-50.

"There needs to be a sharing of the burden. Investors have to pay half, and rate-payers have to pay half,” Nanasi said. “But in this case, PNM wants full recovery, and ratepayers, the poorest people in New Mexico, should bail them out."

Nanasi also contended the bill is unconstitutional because there are pending cases before the state Supreme Court involving PNM and the San Juan plant.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM