ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico regulators on Thursday set the stage for a discussion that could result in a novel program aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
The Public Regulation Commission agreed to schedule workshops to consider a proposal that would allow electric utilities to voluntarily opt to reduce carbon emissions from their generating stations by 3 percent a year starting as soon as 2014.
Western Resource Advocates filed the proposal on behalf of 33 environmental groups. Under the plan, utilities would be able to recover the costs associated with compliance.
"We just wanted to get the discussion going," said Steve Michel, chief counsel for Western Resource Advocates.
The idea, Michel said, was to come up with a program that offers a moderate path to emissions reductions but is still aggressive enough to address climate change.
He acknowledged that utilities felt threatened by the mandates approved during former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's administration to control greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico.
Earlier this year, state regulators overturned those previous efforts after being petitioned by utilities and industry groups that were concerned about the economic implications of the regulations. Also, the federal government has yet to impose any kind of carbon cap.
Supporters say New Mexico could be a leader since no other state has such a voluntary clean energy standard centered on reducing carbon emissions.
The question is whether utilities will jump on board.
For Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which provides power to dozens of rural co-ups in New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, spokesman Lee Boughey said the appropriate venue for considering carbon emissions policies and regulations is at the federal level.
PNM, the state's largest electric provider, said Thursday that "reducing carbon emissions is a worthwhile goal." However, the utility said it needs to better understand the cost implications of such a program and how it would work with current federal regulations facing the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, a key source of electricity for PNM and other customers in the Southwest.
Utilities, industry groups and environmentalists are expected to participate in the workshops. The PRC would have to draft a proposed rule and seek public comment before any plan is formally adopted.
Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based group that has been pushing for pollution controls, said the voluntary program, if adopted, would help utilities prepare for future regulations.
"This can be a positive alternative," she said. "It would protect people while incentivizing change."
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