SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Leading legislators lashed out at the state's utility regulators and rallied around a landmark energy law that would divest the state's main investor-owned utility from a coal-fired power plant and guide new investments in renewable energy.
Lawmakers including Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf accused elected state utility regulators at the Public Regulation Commission of overstepping their authority and provoking costly delays by vetting components of the Energy Transition Act, signed by the governor in March.
The law sets aggressive goals for renewable energy development and aims to ease the economic pains of closing the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.
Utility regulators at the state's Public Regulation Commission are weighing whether the law trumps the agency's own ongoing evaluation of plans to close the San Juan Generating Station in 2022, plans for replacement power — and how much of the costly transition is shouldered by electric utility customers, versus shareholders.
Critics of the Energy Transition Act call it an excessive burden on electricity consumers and a boon to owners of Public Service Co. of New Mexico, which operates the power plant, accusing the company of doing an end-run around consumer financial protections overseen by the Public Regulation Commission.
At a legislative hearing Thursday, Egolf said utility regulators have overstepped their constitutional authority and are operating as a "junior varsity legislature," provoking delays of financial aid to communities that will be affected by the plant closure.
"They don't get to say whether we were wise or correct in issuing or delegating legislative authority," Egolf said of members of the Public Regulation Commission. "We have an agency flagrantly avoiding implementation of the law."
Consumer advocate Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, testified to a legislative panel that utility regulators have an obligation to hear concerns about abandoning investments in the plant and the location of future power plants, regardless of recent legislation.
"The commission must balance the interests of consumers and the interests of investors," she said.
At the Public Regulation Commission, Nanasi's group is challenging proposals by Public Service Co. of New Mexico to recover lost investments at the San Juan Generating Station.
The law allows Public Service Co. of New Mexico and other plant owners to recover investments by selling bonds that will be paid off by utility customers.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces on Thursday suggested the Legislature revisit its energy law to ensure it takes precedent over decisions by elected utility regulators.
In October, the state Supreme Court denied a request by environmentalists and Public Service Co. to force regulators to abide by the Energy Transition Act.
An analysis by the attorney general's office takes no position on whether utility regulators should defer to the Energy Transition Act. But if the act does not apply, it recommends allowing Public Service Co. shareholders to recover only half of stranded investments from utility customers.
In addition to divesting from coal, the Energy Transition Act requires that investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives get at least half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. That would jump to 80 percent by 2040.
A 100 percent carbon-free mandate would kick in five years later for utilities. Electric co-ops would have until 2050 to meet that goal. Those targets are not under dispute.