SANTA FE – Solar-generated electricity and battery storage facilities will be installed in northwestern New Mexico to replace a major coal-fired power plant, according to terms of a decision Wednesday from state utility regulators.
The five-member Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved a plan that relies almost entirely on renewable energy sources to replace electricity from the San Juan Generating Station. Public Service Co. of New Mexico will stop accepting electricity generated by the station by 2022.
The plan shores up electricity supplies for population centers including Albuquerque by building extensive solar and battery storage facilities while shunning new investments in power plants that burn natural gas or coal.
It includes $447 million in capital investment within the boundaries of the Central Consolidated School District in the Farmington area to bolster the local economy and tax base. Additional power generation and energy storage projects are planned for neighboring McKinley County and the Jicarilla Apache Nation within Rio Arriba County.
Kyle Tisdel, an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, said the investments are in line with goals established by state lawmakers in 2019 for decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and channeling investments toward communities that relied on the coal industry.
“It really does set a profound precedent for how we transition our electricity infrastructure over to renewables,” he said.
The city of Farmington and others have been working to keep San Juan open as part of a proposed carbon-capture project. The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded $2.7 million for an engineering study to further investigate the feasibility.
Tisdel said that project is less likely to go forward as the area’s investor-owned utility moves forward with long-term contracts for solar panel arrays and battery storage facilities.
The state-approved power plan also includes investments in coordinated “demand response” efforts to shift electricity consumption away from peak hours and ease pressure on the electric grid.