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Wise words for the PRC

September 24, 2018

“Think big, try small, fail fast.” That’s the mantra of Dan Arvizu, the newly installed New Mexico State University chancellor and former CEO of the National Renewable Energy Lab. Wiser words about managing change have never been spoken. They also happen to be an outstanding prescription for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and the electric utilities it regulates.

I’m running for a seat on the PRC because we are on the cusp of an energy revolution that can dramatically improve our lives. I want to make certain it happens. We can significantly reduce costs for the 40 percent of New Mexico families who struggle to pay their utility bills. We can create thousands of jobs. And we can largely eliminate the sulfur, nitrogen and carbon dioxide pollution that threatens our health and our planet.

Costs for solar and wind power and battery storage have fallen through the floor and are headed for the subbasement. Renewable energy in New Mexico is usually far less expensive than building new gas or coal plants — right now — today. Thanks to recent advances in energy storage, renewable energy can be available even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Battery costs are falling so rapidly that electric cars will soon be cheaper to own than gas-powered vehicles.

But while opportunity beckons, most New Mexico utilities and PRC regulators are stuck in the last century. A senior executive at one of our major utilities recently told me, with a straight face, that it would take 30 years to implement smarter formulas for calculating your electric bill. Colorado and Texas are embracing new energy technologies today. Both enjoy vibrant economies. In stagnant New Mexico, a major utility claims it will take a generation just to update its billing practices.

We can make big advances faster than most folks imagine if we adopt the right management attitude. And we can do it with minimal risk.

Think big: If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. The opportunities in energy are huge.

Try small: You never know if an idea will work until you try it. But you don’t have to bet the farm. By sweeping away outdated regulatory practices and stodgy utility norms that stifle innovation, we can rapidly test new technologies and management regimes in limited settings — without exposing ratepayers to extra expense.

Fail fast: It’s great to succeed on the first try, but we usually learn through failures. Whether we’re learning to use a fork or launch a rocket, the same principle applies. The faster we test new energy technologies, the faster we’ll learn from our failures and the faster we’ll enjoy the rewards.

Communities throughout the United States and the world are experiencing amazing benefits from advances in renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric grid management. Some get there with smarter regulation, others by introducing more competition to push complacent utility monopolies to evolve. We can get there too.

The same spirit driving breakthroughs in energy technology can drive successful adoption of that technology by our utilities. It’s time for the PRC and our utilities to wake up. They need to think big, try small and fail fast to bring us the economic and environmental future we deserve.

Steve Fischmann is a retired business executive, former New Mexico state senator and Democratic candidate for the PRC, District 5.

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