Reader View: Think big on energy, New Mexico

As the Public Regulation Commission reviews Public Service Company of New Mexico’s new energy plan, it’s important to put things in perspective. While PNM intends to increase renewables by just 4 percent this year, Gov. Jerry Brown has said that California will increase the amount of electricity it derives from renewable sources from 33 percent to 50 percent.

The United States as a whole is only 13 percent renewable, but the generation of wind power in the United Kingdom now provides electricity to 25 percent of British homes. And Pope Francis is expected to issue an encyclical this year telling Catholics that acting on climate change is essential to the faith.

Energy costs from fossil fuels have gone up 80 percent in the last decade, while the costs of solar energy have decreased 30 percent in just the last three years. In 2013, solar installation was up 41 percent, and in the first quarter of 2014 it was up 79 percent. In the last year, 25 percent of all new power added was generated by solar, which is growing exponentially.

According to Danny Kennedy of Sungevity, the shift to renewable energy will be the largest economic opportunity of all time and build trillions of dollars of value in the next two decades. Solar is cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels, plus it creates jobs. More people are employed in the solar industry than in the coal industry or the auto industry, and the solar industry is growing at a rate of 20 percent.

Several communities in the U.S. are now or have committed to be 100 percent renewable. Greensburg, Kan., was devastated by a tornado in 2007, and residents rebuilt their city to be 100 percent renewable. All of the electricity used in the city of Greensburg is generated by wind energy. Greensburg is the first city in the U.S. to use all LED streetlights and has the most LEED-certified buildings per capita in the world.

California cities such as Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Barbara, and counties like Marin County, are committed to becoming 100 percent renewable.

Under the visionary leadership of Mayor R. Rex Paris, Lancaster, Calif. — an ultra-conservative, Republican, poor city — has achieved net zero. This means that people there produce as much energy as they consume. A new ordinance requires all new houses in Lancaster to be net zero.

The new film, The Future of Energy, details these hopeful developments.

Finally, rather than support an investor-owned utility, some cities are creating a city-owned public utility that generates power in town instead of importing it, and that maximizes renewable energy. Twenty-nine towns in Colorado have city-run utilities. A Boulder report shows that by switching to a locally owned utility, the city could nearly triple renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, while at the same time offering lower rates.

New Mexico needs a visionary approach to energy generation. We have abundant sun and wind and enormous potential to not only reduce our energy costs and use of fossil fuels, but also to create a robust renewable energy sector that will put people to work. Think big, New Mexico.

Peggy O’Mara has lived in Santa Fe for 30 years. She is the editor and publisher and the former editor and publisher of Mothering magazine

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