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NM Utility Provider Under Fire Over Aging Power-Plant Investments

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Friday, November 12, 2021   

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Critics of a plan by New Mexico's largest utility company to abandon one of the oldest coal-burning plants in the country say ratepayers deserve a better outcome.

The troubled Four Corners Power Plant is noted for repeated equipment failures and forced outages. High maintenance costs have led utility provider Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) to seek approval from the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to withdraw from operations.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the group New Energy Economy, said the word 'abandonment' is not accurate, because PNM would transfer its shares to another company, which has already said it will keep the plant running as long as possible.

"It is important to note that abandonment does not mean closure," Nanasi emphasized. "And in this case, abandonment means PNM sells their coal shares and the plant continues to burn coal."

PNM argued New Mexico's 2019 Energy Transition Act gives the utility the right to exit from coal-burning plants and claim financial incentives, and stated that is what it plans to do.

Brendon Baatz, vice president of the energy consulting firm Gabel Associates, said any effort to extend operations at the aging plant hurts consumers.

"The reality of this plant is that it's just not economical," Baatz asserted. "So eventually, these utilities are going to need to get out of it, to save ratepayers money."

Nanasi argued PNM could have closed the Four Corners coal plant back in 2016, but chose not to.

"Instead, PNM chose to reinvest in a dying resource that disproportionately harms Indigenous people," Nanasi contended. "Now, it wants to stick New Mexicans with the costs of PNM's imprudent investments."

Should the PRC side with the utility company, Nanasi said ratepayers would have to pay 300-million dollars in investments and other costs. A recommendation from a hearing examiner on the proposal is expected any day.

Disclosure: New Energy Economy contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Energy Policy, Environment, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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