A welcome ally to the environmental movement is emerging: the private sector. El Paso Electric recently announced that its energy mix will be completely coal-free by 2016. This decision comes at a crucial time. The world is getting warmer, our carbon emissions are the leading cause, and our lives are in danger.
In 2014, even Gov. Susana Martinez said: “As governor, I have seen firsthand the effects of our devastating drought. … We’ve seen the one-two punch of wildfires, followed by floods, destroying watersheds and threatening communities.” Because of climate change, we will continue to face unnatural wildfires, continued drought and greater food insecurity from rapidly rising prices for food.
To turn around this deadly trend, we must take responsibility for our energy consumption. El Paso Electric’s move away from coal and and toward solar energy does just that. EPE is a billion-dollar company that serves customers in both Southern New Mexico and Texas. It concluded that change is “in the best interest of its 395,000 customers.” This is especially true because of solar’s low-cost production of 5.8 cents per kilowatt-hour versus the 12.8-cent cost of coal. Meanwhile, Wall Street continues a steady stream of reports indicating that the entire coal industry is in decline, making solar a savvy move for investors.
Shifting from coal to solar is more environmentally responsible, cost-effective for consumers and ultimately more profitable and less risky for power companies and their investors. So why is Public Service Company of New Mexico “doubling down” on investments in coal? After being mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency to close two units of the San Juan power plant (which emits 13.8 million tons of carbon every year, making it the 15th-dirtiest in the nation), PNM’s proposed replacement power plan involves purchasing more coal while adding a paltry 3 percent mix of wind and solar to its portfolio.
The answer is simple. PNM hasn’t had to think, and so it hasn’t. Since PNM is a regulated monopoly (a corporation with no free-market competition), it has been able to skate by on old technology, a dying industry and poor, short-sighted financial planning. With no danger from competitors, PNM will continue to make poor choices, passing the costs on to ratepayers. When the coal industry comes to its predicted close, the financial fallout will land on our shoulders in the form of higher rates and taxes.
Due to its monopoly status, PNM has not had to respond to the normal economic pressures that arise from competition. However, it is important that we, as consumers, know that all power companies have options that come at less cost to the environment, ratepayers and investors. EPE has chosen the wise option, and we should celebrate our new ally, while calling on companies such as PNM to do better. As we build our future, we will look to energy companies not to invest in a dying industry, but in one that is safer, healthier and full of new opportunities.
Marisol Fernandez y Mora is a 19-year-old New Mexico native who is a sophomore at Smith College in Massachusetts.