Reader’s view: Boosting solar matters more than ever

Posted: Saturday, December 27, 2014 9:00 pm, Santa Fe New Mexican

Fifteen years ago flat-screen televisions were a luxury item, and the era of cellphones was just beginning. Video chats happened mostly in Star Trek reruns, and few homes had broadband internet service.

Just as all these technological advances have become commonplace, solar energy, a rather “exotic” power source at the start of the millennium, is growing faster than you might think. In 2013, across America, every four minutes, another home or business went solar. Here in New Mexico, solar energy grew 81 percent in the last three years. That’s fast enough to make a goal of 25 percent solar in our state ­­— a goal once thought ambitious, if not as impossible as personal video devices — readily achievable.

“Star Power: the Growing Role of Solar Energy in New Mexico,” a recent report by Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center, shows that growth could actually slow down to 26 percent and solar would still provide 25 percent of our total power in the next decade.

This is a critical finding at a time when Public Service Company of New Mexico, our state’s largest utility, is shutting down two of its coal-powered units at the San Juan Generating Station. PNM has proposed to replace the power with more coal, nuclear and gas. We need to move forward with renewable energy, not continue to rely on energy sources that fuel climate change and pose a serious danger to our health.

Boosting solar energy power production is more urgent than ever. Scientists have never been clearer that global warming is real, happening now, and will only get worse without meaningful action. In New Mexico, we’re already feeling the consequences in the long drought.

Achieving 25 percent solar energy would cut as much carbon pollution as 900 thousand cars emit in a year, and put New Mexico more than halfway to the benchmark set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which requires cuts in power plant carbon pollution of 34 percent.

More solar isn’t just good for the environment. It’s also good for our economy. Solar is currently the fastest-growing industry in the country, adding 143,000 jobs nationwide in 2013. According to the latest solar jobs census from the Solar Foundation, the solar industry employed more than 1,900 people in New Mexico last year.

Of course, 25 percent solar is just a sliver of the possible. Already, New Mexico is home to more than 200,000 residential and commercial rooftops that could host solar panels, and it has enough technical potential to meet the state’s energy needs 1,000 times over.

Even though 25 percent solar is a small fraction of our vast potential, it would make a big difference for our environment and our communities. It would also put us on the path to the 100 percent clean energy future we need for the health of our planet. And in 2025, we’ll be writing about how odd it was that homes still had phones that were connected to the wall and only a miniscule amount of energy came from the sun.

Breanna Ryan is the solar campaign organizer for Environment New Mexico, a local environmental advocacy organization.

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