Last week, Retake wrote an Open Letter to Speaker Egolf and Senator Wirth seeking their leadership in defeating SB 47. Speaker Egolf asked for an opportunity to share his thoughts. So this post includes an unedited letter from the Speaker followed by a few brief thoughts of mine.
Dear Retake Our Democracy,
I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with your readers for the conversation around SB 47. The original bill as introduced had several fatal flaws, which I can’t – and won’t – support. I will only support this legislation if it’s good for the environment, ratepayers, and the affected communities.
When I first learned about the bill, I wanted to ensure that community groups’ voices were at the table with the utility and the legislators. I asked one of my analysts to convene a series of conversations about the bill, including environmental and conservation groups, San Juan County and the City of Farmington, and other economic development groups from the northwest area. The group met for weeks, sometimes on a daily basis for hours.
I want to thank all of these groups, including Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Voters New Mexico, National Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Alliance, and Four Corners Economic Development, for all of the time and energy they have invested into these conversations. They displayed tremendous creativity and dedication in trying to make the bill into an example of how to move out of coal responsibly and in a way that creates a future for the impacted communities.
PNM has announced that it will close the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station because it is too expensive to operate a coal facility. I believe in creating a strong renewable replacement that would result in lower electric bills for PNM customers while diversifying and expanding our renewable energy economy. One of my concerns that the original bill did not fully address is the impact on the Four Corners area, particularly the Central Consolidated School District, whose students are mostly Navajo. This school district will lose a huge percentage of its property tax base, which has already been bonded to fund school buildings. The Four Corners area will struggle to address the need to diversify its economy.
Our state, and particularly the Four Corners area, has been invested in coal for years. But coal plants are no longer economically viable. There are better, cleaner options including utilizing the solar energy opportunities in the same area.
We recognize that the situation is far from perfect and is incredibly complex. The substitute adopted in the Senate Conservation Committee represents much of the good progress made so far, but still has further to go to find consensus and to have my support.
Please know that my office is committed to ensuring that you have access to all the information that we have on the substitute bill and the conversations taking place. My staff and many community groups have dedicated countless hours to ensure that community voices are represented. You are welcome to contact my office for current updates and information at any time. I am pleased how many of you have taken us up on this offer already.
Speaker of the New Mexico House
A note from Paul: I wish that our representatives in Washington were as deliberate in seeking solutions to complex problems. I am also pleased that the Speaker and his process also focus on the economic impact of the transition from coal to renewables upon Four Corners and San Juan residents and upon the Central Consolidated School District. But the fundamental problem that needs to be examined, is that PNM is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart, but out of a desire to continue to extract exorbitant fiscal benefit for its shareholders and highly paid executives and always at the expense of ratepayers. The last publicly shared, amended bill continues to insist upon the entire cost of the bond being paid by ratepayers, leaving shareholders free and clear of responsibility for PNM’s poor decision of predicating future financial viability on operating a coal plant for decades longer than was ever practical. It is PNM’s responsibility to maximize profit; I am not naive. But there are corporations that seek profit while also maintaining a strong social purpose. Not so, PNM.
What’s more, even should PNM relent and agree to split the cost of this transition between ratepayers and shareholders, the effort to do this legislatively clearly abrogates the Public Regulation Commission’s charge to regulate energy and the rates associated with it. In the PRC, PNM has played fast and loose with the truth innumerable times. But in the PRC, PNM is subject to challenges from other groups and from PRC Hearing Officers. Through this discovery process, PNM’s claims can be challenged. Increasingly, the PRC Hearing Officers are finding flaws in PNM’s positions and are calling them on it.
PNM is clearly attempting to work around the PRC right now because in 2018 two PRC Commissioners (Lovejoy and Jones) who are persistent PNM supporters are being challenged by strong, progressives with significant bases of support. Should either of those races remove Commissioner Jones or Lovejoy, the composition of the PRC would shift significantly, from a split of 3-2 that almost always favors PNM to one that would be 3-2 with the majority far more inclined to hold PNM accountable. And if both should lose….. Oh happy day! PNM sees this and is urgently seeking to get redress from the legislature.
In the end, while I respect Speaker Egolf’s effort to extract a good deal for ratepayers and the impacted communities, my well-founded fear is that he is negotiating with an organization that has a lengthy history of bad faith negotiations. It is time to say NO to PNM and let the PRC do its job.
Paul & Roxanne