Riddle me this: Why would a for-profit, electric monopoly knowingly turn down the opportunity to have lower operating costs, increase profits and stimulate the state’s economy through the production of electricity by renewables while simultaneously being able to limit rate increases and lead clean energy development?
The answer has to do with the shortsightedness of Public Service Company of New Mexico and Public Regulation Commission leadership, a failure to objectively analyze the costs and benefits of current plans and the lack of will to engage the public and the staff of the regulatory agency charged with protecting the public interest while guaranteeing a profit for that monopoly (itself a conundrum that is often a contradiction).
PNM and the PRC have come to agreement on a new plan behind closed doors without public input about a new plan.
PNM touts the closure of two of four coal units of the San Juan Generating Station, but presents an Integrated Resource Plan with additional coal capacity totaling 132 megawatts, plus 177 megawatts from a new gas turbine and 40 megawatts of solar. The company wants to sell 134 megawatts of nuclear from an Arizona plant owned by PNM’s parent company to New Mexico ratepayers at a guaranteed profit, when PNM Resources can only sell it on the open market for a loss.
At present, renewable, non-polluting energy resources, wind, solar and geothermal make up less than 10 percent of total electricity generation in our state.
Both economic analysis and public opinion are directly in opposition to the assertions made by PNM:
A 2013 Colorado College poll found that 56 percent of New Mexico voters picked solar as their first or second energy choice, 43 percent picked wind, 31 percent picked natural gas. Only 11 percent chose nuclear and 8 percent picked coal. Thirty-two percent of voters said the impact of oil and gas drilling on air, water and land was very or extremely serious and an additional 22 percent somewhat serious. Do those results reflect New Mexico voters’ indifference about fuel type used to generate electricity?
When maintenance and retirement costs are added to the energy generation costs of coal vs. solar and wind the modeling of present and future energy generation comes down squarely on the side of the renewables. Even better for PNM’s future, rapid increase in solar and wind energy resources lowers operating and maintenance costs and increases profits while moderating increases in costs to rate payers now and long term.
To solve the aforementioned riddle:
PNM and the PRC should integrate renewable alternatives into the energy mix now. Why, when we have incredible solar and wind resources, do we lag behind New Jersey in implementation?
New Mexicans get it. Will PRC members who are supposed to regulate the public on behalf of ratepayers truly represent our interests, or will they accept PNM’s business-as-usual plan to reinvest in more coal and nuclear?
Water is precious in New Mexico. Coal, nuclear and gas use billions of gallons of water a year. Solar and wind use none. Conserve water; don’t use it on the production of dirty technology.
New Mexico could export solar and wind generation. There are few jobs in coal and no jobs in New Mexico from nuclear. Do you want to create the jobs that we didn’t get when New Mexico lost the Tesla plant? Make a full commitment to replacement of fossil and nuclear energy with solar and wind energy.
Use natural gas when necessary for uninterrupted energy availability and power system stability.
Make no more long-term coal contracts that make ratepayers vulnerable to huge “stranded assets.”
Join me in asking the PRC to reject PNM’s short-sighted plan.
Elliot Stern is part owner and business developer with AllTherm/SolarLogic LLC, a Santa Fe-based designer and manufacturer of groundbreaking hydronic heating systems and thermal energy management controls. He is also vice president of the GLAS Foundation, which preserves Tibetan art and culture, and co-chairman of the Sierra Club, Northern New Mexico Chapter Energy Committee.