Watching the Republican and Democratic conventions last month, it was easy to conclude that the two parties come from different planets.
But, every so often, we get a glimpse of bipartisan agreement that reminds us of our common values and the potential for working together to solve problems. One such glimpse came this past year when three of the nation’s leading Republican pollsters released a study demonstrating a clear but underappreciated fact: Conservatives strongly support clean energy.
This kind of clean power mandate — known in New Mexico and other states as the Renewable Portfolio Standard — is good policy because it reduces long-term energy costs, protects the environment and creates jobs. New Mexico’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that 15.7 percent of our electricity come from solar, wind and other renewables by 2021, already is giving us a cleaner environment and more competitive economy. It’s time we expand it.
While some representatives of the fossil fuel industry argue that renewable standards are too expensive, the research reveals just the opposite. A recent independent study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that, in the 29 states with renewable-energy targets, the economic benefits far outweigh the costs. In any given year, renewable standards mean billions in savings from reduced greenhouse gasses and air pollutants. Crucially, these laws can also significantly reduce long-term electricity rates for consumers.
California’s ambitious renewable law (50 percent clean energy by 2030) has so far created about 25,500 annual blue-collar construction jobs as well as thousands of other jobs in research, finance and transportation. Just as important as the number of jobs is the quality of the jobs: Opportunities in clean energy come with good wages and benefits as well as meaningful training and advancement opportunities. The new opportunities associated with California’s law have resulted in more than $46 million worth of investments in apprenticeship training.
Strong renewable standards also mean a more resilient economy. New Mexico’s state budget and economic fortunes are notoriously vulnerable to fluctuations in prices of oil and gas. Boosting our proportion of renewable power — as well as sales of renewable energy to other states — means more predictability and stability. Sunlight and wind are free, and their availability doesn’t fluctuate wildly like Saudi Arabia’s oil output.
At a time when we’re facing threats of declining air quality, climate-related drought, high unemployment and lackluster economic growth, there’s no reason we should settle for a renewable portfolio standard of less than 20 percent. Given that New Mexico has enough renewable resource potential to provide a thousand times more energy than what’s needed to power our homes and businesses, we should at least match California’s achievable target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
In an age of so much bitter partisanship in national politics, New Mexicans from both parties can join together around a common vision of a strong, sustainable, inclusive economy. It starts with stronger renewable standards.
Justin Talbot-Zorn is a Truman National Security Fellow and former legislative director to three members of Congress. He lives in Santa Fe.
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