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By Kevin Robinson-Avila
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Senators want to reform Energy Transmission Act

 

Last updated 1/19/2021 at 3:55pm



New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act became the law of the land in 2019, setting the state on a path to 100% clean electricity by 2045. But three senators now want to reform it, potentially opening a new can of worms in this year’s legislative session.

The law, approved by a strong bipartisan majority, requires New Mexico’s public utilities to replace fossil fuels with 50% renewables by 2030, 80% by 2040 and 100% carbon-free generation by 2045. Electric cooperatives have until 2050.

The law has already accelerated Public Service Company of New Mexico’s withdrawal from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington and its replacement with 100% solar energy and backup battery storage by 2022, representing more than $1 billion in new investments in the Four Corners region. And PNM is now seeking to abandon its only other coal-fired electricity at the nearby Four Corners Generating Facility nearly seven years ahead of schedule, entirely ending its 50-plus-year reliance on coal by December 2024.

But three democratic senators — William Tallman and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez from Albuquerque and Elizabeth Stefanics from Cerrillos — are disturbed by the terms and conditions of PNM’s withdrawal from coal, and potentially in future years from natural gas and nuclear generation. The law guarantees PNM 100% recovery for its investments in coal plants paid for by customers — and in certain circumstances, 100% recovery when closing other fossil fuel facilities.

The senators say that takes away the Public Regulation Commission’s traditional authority to fully vet the prudence of those investments before approving recovery. They’ve pre-filed a bill for the session that began Tuesday to amend clauses they see as problematic.

But the original legislative sponsors, backed by a host of environmental organizations, say the senators fundamentally misunderstand the law, and are being manipulated by Santa Fe-based New Energy Economy, an environmental and consumer advocacy organization that has opposed the energy law from the start and is now trying to overturn it through an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The law, or ETA, involved lengthy, often-acrimonious debate in 2019, culminating in approval toward the very end of the session with a 39-9 vote in the Senate and 43-22 in the House.

One of the law’s original architects and principal sponsors — Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque — called the reform bill a “political talking point” for NEE that’s “absolutely unnecessary.”

“At its heart, the ETA laid out a path for New Mexico to de-carbonize the electric sector and it’s doing exactly that with rapid success,” Candelaria told the Albuquerque Journal. “... NEE continues to spread lies about the legislation. I’ve reviewed the bill again in detail, and the justifications for these proposed reforms are completely false.”

Original House sponsor Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, said the law is exceeding expectations in setting New Mexico on a broad path for transitioning to clean energy.

“I was deeply involved with a broad coalition that crafted and implemented the ETA, and I recall the voices that fought to overturn it,” Small said. “... Unfortunately, those same voices are now seeking changes to undermine the law.”

Pro-reform senators, however, say more than a dozen environmental and community organizations — including the NEE — support their efforts, which are based on those senators’ own re-examination of the law. Tallman, Sedillo Lopez and Stefanics all voted for the ETA in 2019, despite reservations they had, because they support its environmental goals.

“I voted for it even though I saw it as a sweetheart deal for PNM,” Tallman said. “At the time, it just didn’t smell right, but I thought it does a good job of protecting the environment and setting new renewable standards. Now, looking at it again, I believe it doesn’t adequately protect ratepayers, which is the PRC’s job, and we need to strike a better balance between ratepayer and PNM interests.”

NEE is involved with the lobbying effort. But Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said that doesn’t change the need for reforms.

“We need to review the substance of these issues, not just attack the messenger,” Nanasi said. “The whole purpose is to restore regulatory oversight to protect consumers.”

 
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