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New Mexico regulators approve plan to keep San Juan Generating Station open

A Public Service Co. of New Mexico solar farm west of Rio Rancho, N.M. The utility in sun-drenched New Mexico is struggling to get enough solar-generated electricity as it prepares to shut down a coal-fired power plant amid supply chain disruptions, one of the problems threatening to delay or cancel projects around the world amid pressure to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Pres file)

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico regulators on Wednesday approved a plan by the state’s largest electric utility to keep open part of a coal-fired power plant for an extra three months as a way to keep air conditioners humming this summer and reduce the risk of blackouts.

The Public Regulation Commission made its decision less than a week after Public Service Co. of New Mexico submitted its proposal.

The utility will keep one unit at the San Juan Generating Station running through September, rather than closing it this summer as planned.

Developers have blamed supply chain problems and the pandemic for delays in the construction of the solar farms and battery storage stations that were supposed to replace the lost capacity once the coal plant shut down.

As PNM tries to avoid a shortage this summer, the utility said challenges remain on ensuring customer needs are met in the summer of 2023 because of regulatory delays related to another case that involves the upcoming expiration of leases for power generated by the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona.

“PNM will always work to serve PNM customers regardless of regulatory outcomes,” Tom Fallgren, vice president of generation, said in a statement. “While this was not PNM’s original plan, we are relieved that the commission acted promptly on our solution.”

Environmentalists said Wednesday during a briefing that no one could have predicted that the closure of the San Juan power plant and construction of the replacement power would be disrupted by a pandemic. They argued that the delays are short term and should not derail public confidence in New Mexico’s mandates for emissions-free electricity generation within the next two decades.

“We’re still squarely on this path to transition out of fossil fuels,” said Jason Marks, a former member of the Public Regulation Commission and an attorney who works with the Sierra Club. “Renewable energy plus storage is a solution. It works. There’s nothing that we’re seeing that changes that.”