On Wednesday, New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) hearing examiners recommended the PRC replace San Juan Generating Station power with 100 percent renewable energy when the coal-fired power plant is retired in 2022. The PRC must now choose to lead by example, modernizing power generation, improving public health, and diversifying the local economy by adopting the hearing examiners’ recommendations.
The recommendation is a clear statement that public health matters to the hearing examiners. Adella Begaye, Board President of Diné C.A.R.E., a retired nurse and former director of public health testified to the examiners regarding the many harmful respiratory and cardiovascular effects of burning fossil fuels – especially childhood asthma. She illustrated that poverty, limited access to care, environmental exposure and high indoor and outdoor air pollution all contribute to disproportionate fossil fuel impacts on Native Americans’ health as compared with the general U.S. population.
“At this time when public health has become an absolute priority, we strongly endorse the recommended decision for an all renewable energy replacement with the closing of the San Juan Generating Station, as this is the best outcome for our communities’ health and long-term prosperity,” said Robyn Jackson of Diné C.A.R.E. “We are hopeful and strongly urge the PRC commissioners to heed the hearing examiners’ all-renewable energy replacement recommendation.”
“We have advocated from the start of this process for energy transition opportunities that identify rapidly changing economics of renewables in utility portfolios and the benefits that need to be considered in San Juan County. The preferred alternative would locate 430 megawatts of renewable energy in San Juan County and $447 million of capital investment within the Central Consolidated School District, “said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The PRC has a solid roadmap from the hearing examiners to ensure San Juan County moves forward with real projects rather than gambling on doubtful plans to keep San Juan Generating Station running or relying on natural gas.”
In addition to public health improvements, the examiners’ recommendation emphasizes reliability. Significant energy storage capacity will provide a reliable energy source while a just transition to 100 percent renewables will unshackle the community from economic overreliance on fossil fuels.
Dr. Kelly O’Donnell, Ph.D., a researcher and professor at the University of New Mexico testified at the hearing on her research showing western counties economically dependent on fossil fuel extraction lag behind those with more diverse economies on key measures like income and employment.
Dr. O’Donnell emphasized that San Juan County is well-positioned to become a major producer and exporter of solar energy, as well as a commercial-scale energy storage hub for Southwestern utilities thanks to existing transmission capacity. These jobs are in high demand.
In addition, she testified that coal mine reclamation and plant decommissioning would likely improve environmental quality, increase property values, enhance business opportunities, and generate a substantial number of new, multi-year jobs.
Recreation and agritourism also show promise for expansion, with Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Navajo State Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park, Canyon De Chelly National Monument, and Glen Canyon National Recreational Area all within reach.
“With the retirement of San Juan Generating Station, a new door is opening in San Juan County and in New Mexico,” said Kyle Tisdel of the Western Environmental Law Center. “This is about our future, and the opportunities that exist if we can end the addiction to fossil fuels that have been undermining the health of our communities and the livability of our planet. The recommended decision gives us a chance to diversify our economy and end the cycle of boom and bust. Outdoor recreation, mine reclamation, and solar are the future, and San Juan County can have it all.”