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Plan to give financial help to laid-off coal plant workers set to restart

The shuttered coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico on Nov. 29. 2022. While the Public Regulation Commission ordered PNM to issue credits to customers still paying for the plant after it shut down, the utility company appealed the order to the state Supreme Court, which issued a stay on the credits until the case is decided. PNM has now instead rolled San Juan station savings into its most recent rate case, which it says lowers the rate increase proposed for 2024.
Alice Fordham
The shuttered coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico on Nov. 29. 2022.

A law passed in the just-finished legislative session offers a little hope to people who were laid off when the San Juan Generating Station and coal mine in Farmington closed.

A long-delayed process is set to begin moving forward again to bring financial assistance to a community where hundreds of people, many from the Navajo Nation, lost their jobs.

A 2019 law known as the Energy Transition Act promised $20 million to help people who lost their jobs when the coal-powered complex closed. But it set a one-year time limit on the process, which expired as legal challenges and the pandemic slowed the implementation of the law.

Now, an amendment to the law removes that time limit.

"It really was a recognition by the legislature that this process has taken longer than what was expected," said Jason Sandel, a businessman and former Farmington city councilor who leads a community advisory committee which has heard proposals for how the money might be spent.

He says now that the new legislation has passed, the committee will make a decision.

"We have some clarity about those affected workers. And so we'll be in short order coming together to finalize a recommendation," he said.

Another law passed in the session provides for a plan to be made for the cleanup of the generating station and coal mine to minimize environmental contamination.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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