This story appears in both The Paper and the Santa Fe New Mexican through a partnership to bring our readers the best in reporting from the legislature.
An effort to amend the Energy Transition Act failed to gain steam Saturday.
The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-4 to table a bill that sought to make several changes to New Mexico’s landmark energy law, which is designed to move the state’s electric utilities from coal to renewables and zero-carbon resources by 2045.
The sponsors of Senate Bill 155 said the changes were designed to protect New Mexico consumers. The proposal called for restoring the Public Regulation Commission’s full oversight of utility plant closures and eliminating the automatic guarantee for full cost recovery afforded to electric utilities.
“Under the current version of the ETA, utilities receive 100 percent costs from ratepayers when they close a plant or abandon a portion of ownership of a plant,” said Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque.
“I voted for the 2019 ETA but stated publicly that I thought it was a sweetheart deal for PNM,” Tallman added, referring to the Public Service Company of New Mexico. “What I did not realize and I believe many of you probably did not realize that in the law we passed in 2019, language is tucked into the 82-page bill that effectively removed PRC authority to oversee the amount of compensation PNM would receive from closing its old plants.”
Another sponsor, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, also an Albuquerque Democrat, called the law a “transformative bill” that put New Mexico on a path to address climate change. She said she was torn about the bill in 2019 but ultimately voted for it because time was of the essence to protect the environment.
“However, I did not understand that … it would be possible for PNM to sell its interest in the Four Corners [Power] Plant and then come back and say that they were entitled to 100 percent of their abandonment costs and their stranded assets when they weren’t necessarily leaving those assets, to the tune of over $300 million, and the coal would continue to burn in the Four Corners,” she said. “This is not a transition. The coal will continue to burn.”
The bill to change the law drew opposition from two unlikely partners: PNM and the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club. “The ETA is a braid that works together to save our climate, save ratepayers and generate recovery funds for front-line communities and workers,” Camilla Feibelman, director Sierra Club’s Rio Grande chapter, told lawmakers.
“Some want utilities to take a loss on their books for leaving coal,” she added. “That just makes utility credit ratings go down and makes future investments more expensive for customers later.”
Matthew Jaramillo of PNM said the law, which sets the foundation for New Mexico’s transition to renewable energy, is working. “Already the [Energy] Transition Act is making New Mexico a national clean energy leader and is being used as a model on how other states can make this sustainable transition to more clean energy. Furthermore, PNM is planning to use the money recovered from closing down the coal plant and make historic investments in development in new clean energy technologies,” he said. “Removing these funds threatens PNM’s ability to make this clean energy investment.”
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque Democrat who was one of the original architects of the law, said he was “relieved” the committee tabled the bill but “very disappointed” in the push to amend it. He accused Santa Fe-based New Energy Economy, which testified in support of the amendments, of trying to derail the law.
“What we saw today was just perpetuating blatant lies about the Energy Transition Act,” he said.