Say she is starting to move their way on San Juan Generating Station
About 150 people converged this evening on the state Capitol to claim a partial victory in their campaign to phase out coal-fired boilers at the San Juan Generating Station.
A Sierra Club organizer, an array of college students and the CEO of a solar company were among those who said Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration was moving toward the side of conservationists, based on a proposal it made this week.
Martinez’s Environment Department proposed a settlement plan to retire the smaller two of four units at the San Juan station in the Four Corners area, then replace them with natural gas or other non-coal generation technology.
“The governor has gotten the message and she has taken a step,” said Dr. Mike McCally of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
McCally, of Santa Fe, said New Mexico’s environment and the public’s health would best be served by mothballing all the coal-fired boilers, repowering the state with “clean energy” and improving the Four Corners economy by wiping away the smog and health risks.
Organizers of the rally delivered more than 3,000 petition signatures to Martinez’s office asking for an end to coal burning at the San Juan plant, which is run by PNM, New Mexico’s largest utility.
Martinez was not at the Capitol when the groups arrived. Her spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Shrayas Jatkar, organizing representative for the Sierra Club in New Mexico, said Martinez had made a minor concession with the settlement proposal to retire the smaller boilers by the end of 2017.
But her administration also proposed what Jatkar called “weak controls” on the two larger units that cause most of the plant’s coal pollution.
“We have tried to work with the state to develop a plan that meets the safeguards of the Clean Air Act and saves money,” Jatkar said. “Unfortunately, the state has instead made a premature announcement that does not fully address how we can clean up our air and reduce risks for ratepayers.”
Valerie Smith, a spokeswoman for PNM, said changing course on a clean-up plan for the San Juan station was no simple matter.
“Today, PNM is required to comply with a federal plan for San Juan to improve visibility,” she said. “The federal plan requires us to install a specific technology by 2016, and is estimated to cost upwards of $750 million. Our customers would have to bear the cost of that investment that is attributable to PNM’s ownership share of the San Juan Generating Station.”
Smith said the company had supported an earlier state plan that is less expensive but still complies with the Clean Air Act.
Litigation is ongoing over whether the federal smog-reduction proposal should be implemented.
“But at this time the federal plan remains on the books, and we are prepared and taking steps even today to comply with it,” Smith said.
Chuck McCune, who is moving to restart a shuttered solar plant in Albuquerque, said he is a businessman who stands with environmentalists on the San Juan changeover.
Fifty percent of American counties were disaster areas last summer because of heat and drought, McCune said. He said his goals were climate stability, job creation and an immediate end to nuclear power plants.
“We must move to renewable energy, slow the rate of burning fossil fuels and do it without losing jobs,” he said.
New Mexico’s existing system of using a coal-fired power plant means the public will pay at least double in healthcare costs and environmental damage, McCune told fellow demonstrators.
He said his company, McCune Solar Works, was buying the former Schott plant in Albuquerque and would reopen it with perhaps 130 employees. Schott Solar PV Inc. in June closed the factory and laid off 250 workers.
College students were perhaps the biggest group at the Capitol rally. They included 25-year-old Sage Bird of Santa Fe, who helped deliver petitions to the governor’s office.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Venezuela, Bird is studying environmental technology at Santa Fe Community College. Her goal, she said, is to see the country shed coal plants and create sustainable operations that will not foul the environment.
Jatkar of the Sierra Club said that, even with the Martinez administration budging a bit, a fight over clean air may still loom.
“Even though their very own announcement recognizes that coal does not
make economic sense for the people of New Mexico, the state and PNM are
now proposing to continue their use of coal instead of an effective
transition to clean energy jobs,” he said.