NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As New Mexico transitions away from coal-fired power plants, displaced workers are receiving checks. Meanwhile, the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) is still figuring out exactly what the abandonment of coal plants will look like.
Over the last few years, coal-fired power plants in northwestern New Mexico have been winding down. Operations at the San Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners power plant have been cut in order to reach New Mexico’s goal of running the state on at least 50% renewable energy by 2023, a goal set in the state’s Energy Transition Act.
The law also provides financial help for displaced workers. Eligibility for funding was expanded in 2023, and now, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) says they’ve paid out more than $7 million to displaced workers.
“We heard loud and clear from the workers that their number one need was direct financial assistance to bridge the gaps left when the plant and mine closed. We also got over 170 people connected to retraining and re-employment resources through our local Workforce Connections office,” the Secretary of Workforce Solutions Sarita Nair said in a press release. “I am grateful to the Workforce Solutions team and our partners at the Department of Finance and Administration for getting this money out the door so soon after we took applications. This infusion of millions of dollars, over 90% of which is going to San Juan County residents, will help families and bolster the local economy.”
DWS is still taking applications from people who worked at PNM San Juan Generating Station, Westmoreland San Juan Mine, AIMS, and Savage Services. The total fund for payouts, worth more than $12 million, was created to primarily help workers in San Juan, McKinley, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval counties and in nearby tribal lands who lost their incomes with the shutdown of the San Juan Generating Station. Two other state-operated funds are aimed at helping tribal members and boosting the local economy following the shutdown.
Surveys of displaced workers show that as of fall 2022, about a month after the plant closed, a majority of the people DWS surveyed said they wanted to attend work training if it were free. Somewhere between 8% and 30% were unsure of what they planned on doing next or were planning on retiring following the shutdown.
As the state moves away from coal power, PNM is still grappling with the process of closing plants. They recently attempted to abandon their ownership share in the Four Corners Generating Station and requested permission to issue bonds to help cover closure costs. The state’s Public Regulation Commission denied the requests, and PNM brought the issue to the state’s Supreme Court.
Thursday, July 6, 2023, the New Mexico Supreme Court released an opinion confirming the Public Regulation Commission’s ability to deny PNM’s request. The Public Regulation Commission denied the request, in part, because they said PNM had not adequately found a replacement source of energy for electricity customers.
KRQE News 13 reached out to PNM for a response to the New Mexico Supreme Court decision. As of publication, they have not provided a comment.