Facebook's Los Lunas expansion in limbo; state chamber calls for encouragement – Santa Fe New Mexican

The head of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce contended Monday a consistent, predictable regulatory atmosphere is vital to state growth.

Rob Black, president and CEO of the chamber, made the observation in relation to a plan by Facebook to expand its data storage plant in Los Lunas. That proposal largely won passage from the Public Regulation Commission this summer. But a related proposal for energy storage on the Facebook campus met resistance from the commission and denial in its final order.

Black said in this era of greater reliance on sun and wind energy, storage of energy is vital for times when there is no sun or wind.

“I think the state needs to lean heavily into more storage,” he said. “So I would hope that the PRC begins to understand that we have to look very seriously at storage.”

It’s not clear where the Facebook expansion plan stands now. In an email Monday, Facebook wrote: “We are working with PNM [Public Service Company of New Mexico] and the developer to determine the feasibility of complying with the final order.”

A PNM spokesman wrote in an email the company is “working on options to preserve this significant economic development opportunity for New Mexico.”

The PNM-Facebook proposal said the project initially required only 50 megawatts of storage, and it wasn’t clear to the commission why 100 megawatts were being requested. Commissioners expressed concern other customers would face unnecessary costs from the additional storage, a contention PNM denied. 

Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann of Las Cruces said during a meeting this summer that the proposal “felt to me like it was an intentional effort to mislead.”

Black, who worked as an executive with Pacific Gas and Electric a few years ago, said the chamber of commerce isn’t working on the Facebook expansion. But generally, he said, New Mexico’s economy requires the state to invest heavily and quickly in elements that enable the transition to renewable energy.

“It’s the right thing for us to do,” he said. If regulations slow or block the process, he added, that is a disincentive for other companies considering New Mexico.

“We need to grow our economy and diversify our economy, and that requires predictability,” he said. The state has a more stable environment for renewable energy than many places, he said, and that is an advantage New Mexico should maximize.

Wayne Propst , who was appointed chief of staff of the Public Regulation Commission in the spring, wrote in an email: “I would argue that the public good and economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive if done thoughtfully.” 

The commission will undergo an overhaul in 2023. A proposal to convert the commission from five elected members to an appointed three-person board was approved by voters.

Black said it was his understanding the commission is understaffed. “They need more resources, they need more expertise,” he said.

He said 22 full-time-equivalent positions out of 119 authorized positions are vacant to stay within the commission’s allocated budget.

He said he hopes to work with the Legislature and executive branch “to address the agency’s budget issues” to help the current commission complete its work and make sure the new commission gets off to a good start.



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