By the Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico’s largest electric provider has two weeks to file an amended application with state regulators who will determine whether it can transfer its shares in a coal-fired power plant to an energy company backed by the Navajo Nation.
A hearing examiner with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission issued an order Friday saying Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s application to abandon its stake in the Four Corners Power Plant was insufficient and doesn’t go far enough in explaining whether the transaction would benefit the public. The utility has until March 15 to submit a revamped application and additional evidence.
Environmentalists have concerns about the sale, saying it would violate a 2019 energy law that aims to end fossil fuel electricity generation over the coming decades. They argued that the utility hasn’t provided testimony about whether the proposed sale of the shares to the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. would result in a net public benefit.
PNM’s abandonment request seeks to recover $300 million it has invested in Four Corners using low-cost bonds that would be paid off by utility customers.
PNM is defending its past investments in Four Corners. In filings with the Public Regulation Commission, the utility said it supports including additional information in the pending abandonment case as well as supplemental testimony regarding the effect of the Energy Transition Act on considerations related to the prudence of its investments.
PNM also has argued that using low-cost bonds to recover its investments and replacing coal with cheaper renewable generation could save customers anywhere from $30 million to $300 million over time compared to remaining in Four Corners until 2031. The amount saved would depend on the costs of whatever replacement power is ultimately approved by state regulators.
Mariel Nanasi, a longtime PNM critic and executive director of New Energy Economy, called the power plant a toxic liability. She accused PNM of mismanagement for deciding several years ago to spend more money on the plant despite growing liabilities linked to fossil fuel generation.
“Reinvesting nearly a billion dollars without any financial evaluation, who would do that? A rogue company who thought it could get away with it,” she said.
New Energy Economy and other environmental groups have said PNM is under pressure to transfer its ownership due to a pending merger with a global renewable energy giant.
It was after the state adopted the Energy Transition Act in 2019 that PNM set a goal of being carbon-free by 2040. The planned sale of PNM to Iberdrola’s majority-owned U.S. subsidiary Avangrid was first announced last fall as negotiations already were underway with the Navajo Transitional Energy Co.