Moving in the right direction on energy

February 20, 2019

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised that New Mexico will become a leader in renewable energy — creating jobs in a growing industry while at the same time fighting climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The emergence of state and local governments as leaders in moving the country toward greater reliance on renewable energy is essential, given that the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge either climate change or the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

A path to make New Mexico’s goal a reality is making its way through the Legislature. Senate Bill 489, or the Energy Transition Act, focuses on transitioning the state’s public utilities and rural electric cooperatives away from the use of coal and toward renewable and zero-carbon resources.

It’s a game-changer, one we trust will be passed by the Legislature and signed into law.

Remarkably, the legislation has support of a majority of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Conservation Voters of New Mexico, as well as Public Service Company of New Mexico. Yes, PNM is prepared to shut down aging coal plants early and work toward the mandate in this legislation — ensuring that the state’s electric grid will become 100 percent carbon free by 2045. The landmark bill works by all parties giving a little.

For PNM, the carrot comes because the bill will permit the company to sell bonds to cover its investments made before it agreed to abandon coal. Bond securitization, as it is called, would allow PNM to recover so-called stranded costs made in the San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant, with ratepayers repaying the bonds through a surcharge on their bills. That’s a sticking point for some, but we believe the benefits outweigh the costs.

Always keep the bigger picture in mind — getting the state weaned off coal as a source of electrical power. That will happen, because the bill has ambitious goals, calling for public utilities to derive 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040, all the way to 100 percent carbon free by 2045.

PNM gains, but so does all of New Mexico. The legislation would use the same low-interest bonds to provide economic relief for communities impacted by the closures of coal plants. There will be millions to fund workforce training and economic development in the Four Corners area, a must considering potential loss of jobs and tax revenues in the region. Moving away from coal also means less air pollution, always a welcome result.

The legislation would place New Mexico right up there with the state of Washington — becoming only the second U.S. state to implement a 100 percent carbon-free initiative. Because communities and states are taking up the battle to slow climate change, we can make a difference even as Washington, D.C., leaders sit idly by. The Energy Transition Act brings all groups to the table, united with common goals — eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels in the electricity-generating sector and growing the renewable energy industry. Let’s get this passed.