My father used to work at the Four Corners Power Plant. His career there was short-lived — he couldn’t bear how harmful and extensive the pollution from the coal plant was, not only for the health of the workers but for the health of surrounding communities and our planet. Today, we’re still dealing with the negative health impacts of dirty energy. Even so, there is an opportunity for progress toward a just transition and a brighter renewable energy future with the proposed Avangrid-Public Service Company of New Mexico merger.
Many of the outspoken voices around the Avangrid-PNM merger have been narrowly focused on the impact to ratepayers, but other crucial perspectives are involved. For six decades, communities in the Four Corners region have suffered from the toxic byproducts from fossil fuel production, from facilities like the San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant, so people in other parts of the state and Southwest cities could enjoy affordable electricity.
This is an environmental justice issue. For generations, these power plants have enhanced the health and quality of life for residents of cities like Albuquerque, Phoenix and Las Vegas, Nev. Yet even in 2021, there are still communities in the Four Corners and on Navajo Nation that don’t have access to electricity or running water, while our people and our land continue to suffer from air and water pollution from fossil fuel production.
As one of the few Navajo groups from the Four Corners area that is an intervener in the Public Regulation Commission case regarding the Avangrid-PNM merger, Diné C.A.R.E. supports the merger. We appreciate that Avangrid is an established renewables-focused company, and we look forward to future renewable energy projects in the Four Corners region and on the Navajo Nation.
It was recently announced that the proposed merger now has an increased benefit to ratepayers — to the tune of $65 million in ratepayer relief. The more important number, which is usually treated as secondary or not mentioned at all, is the more than $27 million in economic development the merger would bring. This includes the $12.5 million specified “for the benefit of impacted Indigenous communities” in the Four Corners region — something for which our organization and Four Corners community groups introduced and advocated. This funding represents a tangible beginning step toward the environmental justice that our communities deserve.
Avangrid leadership has agreed to meet with communities in the Four Corners area, and we’re holding them to that commitment. We look forward to their visit, as it’s important for our people to be able to speak for ourselves, in our voice, representing our traditional Navajo values of care and respect for community and land. Diné C.A.R.E.’s support for the impacted communities in the Four Corners region originates in our traditional Diné teachings, which direct us to promote regenerative and sustainable uses of natural resources.
Avangrid has demonstrated its commitment to a renewable energy future, and we look forward to that commitment extending to New Mexico, including helping communities transition from how we’ve generated energy in the past. It has happened too often, as with the now-closed Navajo Generating Station and the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines — companies have come in, damaged our land and water, hurt the health of our people, and then left with their profits. With Avangrid, we have an opportunity to apply the $12.5 million for just transition efforts in the Four Corners region with community groups that already are engaged in community development.
We encourage all interveners to support the merger and to agree to the stipulations that will provide critical funding for impacted communities in the Four Corners region.
Robyn Jackson is the energy outreach coordinator for Diné C.A.R.E.