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Critical Decision on Renewable Energy Slated for New Mexico

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The solar industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, but systems purchased and installed in New Mexico before Dec. 31, 2027, are eligible for a 10% tax credit. (riograndesierraclub.org)
The solar industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, but systems purchased and installed in New Mexico before Dec. 31, 2027, are eligible for a 10% tax credit. (riograndesierraclub.org)
July 27, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- All eyes are on New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission this week in anticipation of a decision on how to replace energy from the coal-burning San Juan Generating Station. The station, located in San Juan County, is set to retire in 2022.

The commission's hearing examiners recommended 100% solar and storage for the site, but some want a delay until a conversion proposal for the coal plant could possibly bid to be the replacement power.

Chair of the Rio Arriba County Commission, Leo Jaramillo, said he believes the best option to meet the state's goal for accelerating renewables is solar.

"That would be friendly to the environment, brings jobs to northern New Mexico, help with taxes in the region and then ultimately just ensuring that we just protect our environment," Jaramillo said.

The 2019 Energy Transition Act calls for a statewide renewable-energy standard of 50% by 2030, 80% by 2040 and 100% carbon-free by 2045. The PRC meets Wednesday to consider allowing the state's utility provider to enter into contracts to purchase solar energy and battery power storage from projects to be built in San Juan, McKinley and Rio Arriba counties.

Robyn Jackson, energy and climate outreach coordinator with the Navajo environmental group Diné CARE, said New Mexico residents in the Four Corners area have long suffered from asthma and other respiratory health issues due to coal burning and deserve a clean substitute for the San Juan plant.

"Because that plant will close in 2022, and we recognize that people do want a different form of electricity," Jackson said. "And we think that that should be something that has a minimal impact on the land and the people's health."

Rio Arriba County renewable-energy advocate Roger Montoya said the decision is essentially about moving from dirty coal to cleaner energy, but it's also about jobs.

"It's going to save electric customers between $6 and $7 a month," Montoya said. "It's going to create something like 700 construction jobs in Rio Arriba County and about 3,500 direct and indirect jobs in the three-county region."

Montoya said a delay of the solar project could mean a loss of more than $1 billion in investment for San Juan, McKinley and Rio Arriba counties.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Rio Grande Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM