Continuing civil war among environmental organizations serves none of us. Many of us were confused during debate on the SB 489 and the produced water bill by conflicting messages from divided environmental organizations.And the same divisions have reappeared about PNM’s planned purchase of a share in Palo Verde nuclear plant. Why do we continue to divide and let PNM conquer?
Jemez Mountain Electric Co-op Annual Meeting Mired in Dirty Politics. This is the kind of stuff that makes people sour on politics. The JMEC has long been divided between an incumbent group of commissioners who have resisted efforts at democratizing the JMEC, and the incumbents appear to be willing to stop at nothing to avoid losing their grip on power. In June, Sam Crawford and Bruce Duran won their elections for the JMEC board appearing to create a 5-5 split on the board and setting up a coin toss to identify which coalition could appoint a sixth member to break the tie. But the incumbents wanted none of that and in July voted to remove Bruce Duran, claiming that since he was legally-separated from his wife he could not claim residency despite assertions by Duran’s attorney that Duran still lives in the residence and that as long as the couple remains legally married, the JMEC bylaws means they have shared membership in the Co-Op.
Also in the June Election another member of the reform coalition, Patrick Herrera, a former Española school board member, lost a narrow race to Lucas Cordova, another member of the entrenched regime. But Herrera has joined the Duran legal challenge, claiming that Secretary of State voting records disclose that Cordova clearly does not live in the district from which he was elected. If you are keeping score, the legal proceedings could result in either a 6-4 majority for the regime, if both Duran’s and Herrera’s claims are rejected. On the other hand, if the decision affirms their claims, the reformers could claim a 6-4 majority.
Residency issues aside, there is a long history of claims that the entrenched regime has employed a litany of undemocratic practices, e.g. closed meetings, failure to post fiscal information, and most recently advancing a potential renewable contract calling for 6 cents per kWh of solar electric generation for 25 years, a contract that is difficult to defend in light of the recent bids for 2.5 cents per kWh received by neighboring Kit Carson Electric co-op.
Luiz Torres, Vice Chair of Rio Arriba County Democratic Party has been advocating with the reformists for years and has called for a boycott of the Sunday, July 21 JMEC Annual Meeting, feeling that it is a sham meeting and hoping to send a loud message. In the meantime all eyes are on state District Judge Bryan Biedscheid who will decide the residency matters and determine the composition of the JMEC board. While there are different views as to whether boycotting the meeting or disrupting it makes more sense, after hearing from a number of JMEC members it appears that the best course is to encourage JMEC members to boycott the meeting. Stay tuned. To read this morning’s New Mexican article covering more details of the dispute, click here.
Coalition of Environmental Groups Side with PNM in Palo Verde Nuclear Acquisition Dispute
At left is a photo of how we store nuclear waste. How safe do you feel? How much do you want to continue to support this industry when cheaper, cleaner renewable energy is possible? It would seem a simple choice, but…..
Over the past six months, a schism has deepened among New Mexico environmental organizations, organizations that should be allies. From innumerable emails and reader comments to this blog, it is clear that the constituents of these organizations are left confused and unclear on who to believe and what to do. With climate catastrophe at our doors, we can’t afford this diffusion of efforts.
On Wednesday, I sat in the PRC hearing where Western Resources and the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy sat alongside a bevy of PNM attorneys. CCAE members include 350.NM, Sierra Club, Environment NM, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Western Environmental Law Center- Across the aisle from New Energy Economy, Retake Our Democracy, Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, Bernalillo County Commission, and Southwest Generation. While only Western Resources directly testified in support of PNM. By virtue of having Chuck Noble, the CCAE leader, the clear impression was given that those organizations supported his testimony. PNM, Western Resources and the CCAE tried to argue that the PRC should approve PNM’s plan to assign to ratepayers 100% of the cost of purchasing 178 MW (about 10% equity) in the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona. This is a case that has bounced back and forth between the PRC Commission and the Supreme Court for three years.
In 2016, the PRC hearing officer Carolyn Glick and the PRC Commission by a 3-2 vote determined that the nuclear acquisition was imprudent and disallowed PNM from holding ratepayers responsible for any future decommissioning costs but allowed the cost of the lease to be entered into the rates. Frankly, it is hard to understand why a demonstrably imprudent investment should have been entered into the rates in the first place.
Months later the Supreme Court ruled that PNM had indeed been imprudent and had failed to provide any evidence to justify their decision to purchase the lease or compare PNM’s preferred nuclear purchase and lease extension to the investment in any other (renewable) resource. Such a comparison would have been required to demonstrate that the acquisition made fiscal sense. But the Supreme Court returned the case to the PRC, as they determined that PNM had not been afforded an opportunity to defend their decision. Throughout this Wednesday’s hearing, PNM attorneys and the attorney representing the Sierra Club and 350.NMtried to argue that the Supreme Court had rejected the PRC’s decision and its penalty when in fact that is not what was ruled by the Supreme Court. It had merely said that the PRC had to reconsider penalties and afford PNM an opportunity to make a case that their purchase made financial sense. Indeed, the Supreme Court strongly supported the PRC finding, simply saying that the PRC had not provided PNM with due process.
PNM hasn’t produced a financial analysis to demonstrate the fiscal efficacy of purchasing Palo Verde nuclear energy because nuclear energy costs four times what solar, wind, and storage cost. Ratepayers would pay those higher costs, and PNM would profit. Investing in Palo Verde provides zero NM jobs and does absolutely nothing to build a renewable energy infrastructure in NM. It would extend a legacy of involvement with the nuclear industry and further delay PNM joining the 21st century and build a legitimate renewable energy base load.
I understand why PNM attorneys would use every piece of legal sophistry to protect their financial interests. They want to make as much profit as possible, public interest be damned. And legal sophistry was on full display Wednesday as PNM and their environmental coalition did their best to cut and paste passages from hearing findings and Supreme Court rulings to make their case. But as I sat listening to this, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the hearing would have unfolded had a solid coalition of environmental groups stood in solidarity opposing PNM’s arguments.
Sierra Club, 350.NM, Western Resources, Environment NM, and other grasstops enviro organizations have very legitimate fears that if Palo Verde nuclear energy were disallowed, PNM would then seek to replace this with (un)natural gas. There is good reason to believe this, as PNM has just submitted four plans to replace the energy lost from closing the San Juan Generating Station and three of the four rely on the use of natural gas, including the one they prefer. So, they’ve preference for gas clear once in relation to San Juan and they would very obviously do it again in relation to Palo Verde. There is more money to be made developing natural gas than renewables. PNM is essentially making a threat: our nuclear way or our natural gas way. The Clean Affordable Energy Coalition, siding with PNM, prefers nuclear to the possibility of gas. But rather than acquiescing to PNM threats, foisting nuclear energy on PNM ratepayers, and calling that “clean or emission-free” energy, I have another idea.
How about all the NM enviros get around a big table and try to make peace? Most every one of these environmental leaders share the same long-term aspirations. PNM has artfully divided these organizations, leaving their constituents bewildered. It is time to develop a plan for a legitimately 100% renewable energy base in NM that utilizes neither nuclear or gas, but one that relies on wind, solar, and increasingly efficient storage. If some level of existing natural gas must be used for a short time, so be it. But we simply can’t afford to continue this battle among groups who need to be unified and focused on an objective all of us can support: a plan for 100% renewable energy and for building New Mexico’s capacity to generate and distribute wind and solar to other states.
Throughout the 2019 legislative session, I was assured by members of the Clean Affordable Energy Coalition that they were confident that SB 489 protected the public from PNM plans for using gas to replace the abandoned SJGS. Why wouldn’t that same confidence apply in relation to nuclear. I doubt there are many Sierra Club or 350.NM supporters and donors who are thrilled to find their leadership siding with PNM and advocating for nuclear energy at four times the price of renewable energy. We would all be better served if there could be an end to this infighting so we could all work together to advance a plan around which we can all rally: 100% renewable energy on terms and timeframe defined by a unified coalition of environmental organizations. We simply can’t afford to work within the constraints imposed by PNM’s thirst for profit.
Paul & Roxanne