New Mexico Utility Dumps Coal While Albuquerque Embraces Solar
New Mexico’s power utility has unveiled plans to phase out its coal-fired generation over the next 14 years, at almost precisely the moment that Albuquerque City Council passed a unanimous resolution to invest $25 million in solar panels to supply 25% of its electricity by 2025.
In the draft of its latest integrated resource plan, Public Service Company of New Mexico proposes to save consumers money by shutting down the San Juan Generating Station, a 1.85-gigawatt coal unit near Farmington, in 2022, 30 years ahead of schedule. It will give up its 13% stake in the 2-GW Four Corners plant in 2031. The output from the two plants will be replaced by a mix of solar, wind, natural gas, and nuclear generation.
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“Market forces are driving a rapid evolution of energy resources, and the current data clearly supports the replacement of the coal in our portfolio with an energy mix that includes more renewables and natural gas as the best, most economical path to a strong energy future for New Mexico,” said PNM Resources Chair Patricia Vincent-Collawn.
PNM Planning and Resources Director Pat O’Connell said the company modelled hundreds of different energy mixes to find the most affordable option for consumers, and compared scenarios in which San Juan shut down in 2022 or continued to operate. The result was a plan that “would get PNM entirely out of coal”, replacing that capacity with “hundreds of megawatts more of solar and natural gas, some nuclear and possibly wind resources.”
Days earlier, city councillors in Albuquerque made their own contribution to that target, adopting the 25-by-25 plan with the support of Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), CleanTechnica reports. “Why on earth would Albuquerque not be a leading solar city nationwide?” Heinrich asked. “We have all the resources in the world.”
“People should be proud of our city today,” said councillor Pat Davis, who helped lead the effort to pass the resolution. Albuquerque currently generates only 3% of its electricity from solar, but ranks ninth among U.S. cities in solar generation and fourth in solar per capita.
“Thanks to efforts by Heinrich, Albuquerque will be eligible for up to US$25 million in federally-backed bonds to pay for the purchase and installation of solar panels on dozens of city buildings,” CleanTechnica notes. “The solar panels are expected to be in operation within two years and will significantly reduce the city’s utility bill for electricity. The city will also train local workers to install the panels. Voters must now approve the plan to issue $25 million in renewable energy bonds.”
But the momentum in New Mexico and elsewhere isn’t deterring pressure on the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to redouble their support for “clean” coal, IEEFA reports.
“The expansion of carbon capture from industrial facilities and power plants can enable use of America’s abundant coal, oil, and natural gas resources while reducing carbon emissions, promote economic development, protect and create high‐paying jobs in energy production, manufacturing, and other critical industries, and drive further innovation and cost reductions in carbon capture technology,” said an April 20 letter coordinated by the Great Plains Institute for Sustainable [sic] Development and signed by representatives of Peabody Energy, Cloud Peak Energy, and the United Mine Workers, among others.