By Michael Gerstein mgerstein@sfnewmexican.com Jul 29, 2020 Updated Jul 30, 2020

An array of renewable energy projects will replace lost energy from the possible closure of a Farmington-area coal plant under a plan approved Wednesday by the Public Regulation Commission.

Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a mix of new solar, energy storage, and hybrid solar and battery projects meant to make up for an expected loss of electricity once the Public Service Company of New Mexico follows through on plans to leave behind the aging San Juan Generating Station in 2022.

A company called Enchant Energy is still pursuing plans to purchase the coal plant, install a carbon-capture system and keep it running. Hearing examiners for the PRC kept that in mind when they recommended the plan commissioners approved Wednesday, PRC Chairwoman Theresa Becenti-Aguilar said during the meeting.

“They left that door open, and that’s the part that I like the most, because my constituents, they need to have a paycheck just like anybody else across the country and New Mexico,” Becenti-Aguilar said.

Regardless of whether the carbon-capture project happens, commissioners have given the green light to a 100 percent renewable energy plan that would create new projects on tribal land within the school district where the power plant contributes taxes.

That includes 650 megawatts of solar power and 300 megawatts of battery storage to back up the solar energy. The plan would be in line with requirements from a 2019 state energy law that mandates emissions-free electricity production by 2045.

It includes an overall $447 million in investment in the Central Consolidated School District, where the coal plant now operates. A majority of the power and $430 million more in investment would be located in McKinley County and in the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Rio Arriba County, according to the PRC examiners’ recommendation, which commissioners approved Tuesday.

The projects “will lead to thousands of construction jobs and $1 billion in investment in northwestern New Mexico,” Camilla Feibelman, director for the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.