Group wants state regulators recused from coal power plant case

SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

Group wants state regulators recused from coal power plant case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — State regulators in less than two weeks are to begin deliberating a proposal that calls for shutting down part of an aging coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico that serves more than 2 million customers in the Southwest.

But one environmental group, New Energy Economy, is calling for Public Regulation Commissioners Pat Lyons and Karen Montoya to recuse themselves from the deliberations.

The group, in a motion filed Wednesday, argues that phone calls and emails between the two commissioners and the electric utility PNM have created at least an appearance of a conflict of interest.

"People want to know choices are being made transparently and wisely and democratically," New Energy Economy executive director Mariel Nanasi said in a statement. "PNM and some of our state utility regulators have completely corrupted that public faith."

The commissioners did not immediately respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment.

Lyons told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the allegations were baseless and politically motivated.

"They're a very liberal organization that doesn't take into consideration the ratepayers of New Mexico," he said. "They're grabbing at straws, trying to push through a liberal agenda."

The proposal for shutting down part of the San Juan Generating Station is aimed at curbing haze-causing pollution in the region. The terms were negotiated in 2013 by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration, PNM and officials from the Navajo Nation.

Under the plan, two units at the San Juan plant near Farmington would be closed and the lost power replaced with a mix of coal from one of the plant's other units, electricity generated by the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona, a new natural gas-fired plant and solar.

PNM's regulatory filings estimate the cost over 20 years at more than $6.8 billion. The utility has said the power replacement plan represents the most cost-effective alternative for dealing with federal environmental mandates that call for reducing pollution at San Juan.

New Energy Economy has argued that the proposal depends too much on coal- and nuclear-generated power and would saddle customers with the costs of impending emissions regulations as well as the expense of decommissioning coal- and nuclear-fired plants in the future.

In its filing this week, the group claims there have been ongoing and regular social and professional contacts between the commissioners and senior PNM management and lobbyists who work for the utility.

Aside from listing phone calls, the motion details emails that Nanasi claims "demonstrate a close relationship between these two commissioners and PNM that clearly violates both the letter and the spirit of the law."

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