What in the world is going on with the ETA?
By Ben Shelton, Political & Legislative Director
New Mexico can be a leader in clean energy. We can be at the top of the list for healthy air and thriving communities with sustainable economies. We’re finally making progress toward that vision under Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s leadership. Gov. Lujan Grisham and state lawmakers passed the bipartisan Energy Transition Act (ETA) to make New Mexico a national leader in wind and solar energy and it became law in June. This success wouldn’t have been possible without Conservation Voters like you electing Gov. Lujan Grisham and speaking up about your support for the ETA with your lawmakers during the 2019 session! A lot has happened now that the law is being implemented, so we wanted to share an update and provide you an opportunity to weigh in.
The ETA set a 100% carbon-free energy standard and put New Mexico on a path to directly address the climate crisis. The bill also establishes a pathway for an energy transition in the Four Corners area by providing $40 million in relief to workers and local communities in San Juan County affected by the closure of coal plants.
In July, the first case that the ETA would apply to was filed at the Public Regulation Commission (PRC), the elected body that regulates electric utilities in New Mexico. PNM, the state’s largest utility, filed to close the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) in San Juan County.
Closing this behemoth polluter is a huge win for the communities that are hardest hit by the air and water pollution impacts from the plant. We also recognize that SJGS is an economic driver. That’s why the ETA ensured that the closure of coal plants include resources for workers and the local community to cope with the impact. Already, attacks are underway to stop the progress we’ve made toward a just and equitable transition to clean energy.
Out-of-state Industry Money Weighs In
Power the Future, an anti-clean energy group founded by Daniel Turner, formerly of the Charles Koch Institute, has continuously attacked the law, despite the fact that support for clean energy is at an all-time high in New Mexico. Earlier this year, nearly 700 Conservation Voters like you sent messages to Power the Future that New Mexicans are ready for a clean energy future and that we won’t be intimidated by industry and Koch money. We’ve also discovered recently that Power the Future is coordinating closely with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA), the largest oil and gas lobbying group in the state, to attack any progress toward a clean energy future. Given that New Mexicans’ support for climate action is at an all-time high, it’s clear that Power the Future and NMOGA do not represent our values.
Utility Regulators Stand in the Way of Transition Funds
In a devastating blow to the holistic approach to energy transition of the ETA, the PRC is trying to argue that the law will not apply to PNM’s case on the abandonment of the San Juan plant. The PRC decision, led by Santa Fe Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, immediately halts access to $40 million for job training and development, severance pay, economic development and assistance to Indigenous people in the area, leaving the burden of this decision to rest on the backs of displaced workers and their families in the Four Corners region. We are on the verge of a clean energy revolution and it’s beyond disappointing to see the majority of PRC Commissioners stand in the way of the progress we’ve already made to transition to more clean energy. We applaud Commissioners Cynthia Hall and Steve Fischmann for upholding the values of the ETA.
Organizations that are legally involved in the case at the PRC are working to ensure the ETA applies to the case so that San Juan communities get support during the transition.
This move by the PRC also prompted Gov. Lujan Grisham to call on the legislature to debate PRC reform during the 2020 legislative session. “It’s clear that reform is urgently needed to help restore sound decision-making to the Public Regulation Commission,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. We agree that the PRC needs continued improvement to be able to best protect ratepayers, especially in this critical time of energy transition in our state.
Supreme Court Case Threatens Transition Funds
In late August, a lawsuit was filed before the New Mexico Supreme Court asking for several aspects of the Energy Transition Act (ETA) to be ruled unconstitutional under the claim that it undermined the PRC’s authority to regulate utilities and protect ratepayers.
The ETA preserves the Public Regulation Commission’s authority for robust review of the financing order to protect ratepayers, which is one of the reasons why the landmark law garnered broad and diverse support across the state. What makes the Energy Transition Act unique is the funding that the law provides to help support communities that have generated our energy for decades during the transition to cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. The lawsuit stands in the way of an equitable transition to a clean energy economy for the Four Corners region by threatening the $40 million in transition funding established by the ETA.
The New Mexico Supreme Court refused both writs filed there regarding the landmark clean energy law. One of the denied writs challenged the constitutionality of the law and the other asked the Supreme Court to compel the Public Regulation Commission (PRF) to clarify if they will apply the ETA to the San Juan Generation Station closure case.
It’s likely that the Supreme Court denied the writs – without making any ruling on the merits of either – because the PRC hasn’t done enough work to build a file for the Supreme Court to review. Essentially, the court maintained that the decision is the PRC’s, making it more important than ever that your commissioner hear from you!
Thank you again for being vocal and pushing our leaders to make strides toward a clean energy economy, and ensure communities most impacted are at the table and supported during the transition. As opposition to this ambitious vision continues, your voice will play a critical role in our collective success to secure a thriving future for New Mexico.