What could PNM be thinking?

Posted: Monday, December 29, 2014 9:00 pm

New Mexicans breathed a sigh of relief last year in hearing that Public Service Co. of New Mexic0 would be closing down two of the dirtiest coal-fired plants in the nation. Those two generators at the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico are responsible for six million tons of carbon pollution in our skies every year, not to mention other pollutants like mercury, sulfur dioxides, etc.

Unfortunately, our relief was short-lived. PNM has a backward plan to make up for its loss of generating capacity from closing half of the San Juan coal plant. Rather than making an investment in clean, abundant solar and wind power, PNM has stuck with what it knows best — dirty, expensive, and dangerous coal and nuclear generators.

PNM proposes to derive more than 40 percent of its total generating capacity from coal through 2053. In addition, it will increase its use of nuclear power (created at the Palo Verde site in Arizona) to 30 percent, while getting less than 4 percent from solar and no new wind.

At a time when the rest of the world is in a race to develop the most efficient technologies to lead the world into a cleaner and prosperous energy future, the powers at PNM are stuck trying to extract every bit of profit from coal and nuclear.

Of course, the system is a part of the problem. New Mexico has granted monopoly powers to PNM. In exchange for providing reliable electricity to its customers, PNM does not have to worry about competitors and is guaranteed a profit — a profit based on consumption, the more electricity they sell, the more they profit. And quite the profit indeed- have you seen their share prices and executive salaries lately? Pretty good for a “public service company.”

PNM’s coal and nuclear plan needs the approval of the state’s Public Regulation Commission. And the PRC has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 5 to evaluate PNM’s proposal and to take public input.

Will the PRC take seriously its role as a regulatory agency to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare against unbridled corporate greed? Or will it act as a rubber stamp for the moneyed interests to continue to plunder the resources of our commonwealth and endanger public health.

The pitfalls are clear: a runaway corporate entity fueling climate change, polluting our land, air, and water, and leaving all of us dependent on its outdated thinking.

If the PRC does its job properly and rejects this antiquated proposal, demanding instead an investment in cleaner, cheaper renewable sources, the benefits are equally clear: a healthier environment, healthier people, a reduction in pollution, and an investment in green technologies that would create good-paying jobs.

This last bit deserves more. If the politicians on the PRC step up and do the right thing, New Mexico will benefit greatly on the jobs front. If the PRC requires the investor owned utility to deploy renewable energy, we can create thousands of green collar jobs. Our high schools and colleges are already employing teachers and faculty in green technology. The solar industry is one bright spot in NM with home and commercial scale installers and skilled laborers experiencing meaningful work.

Please make your voice heard. The Public Regulation Commission needs to know that people are paying attention, and that we care deeply about both the economic and ecological effects of how electricity will be generated in New Mexico for the next 20 years.

Attend the Jan. 5 public hearing at the PERA building in Santa Fe and submit written testimony. Call your PRC commissioners and tell them to require PNM invest in advanced solar and wind today.

Rick Lass of Mimbres was the Green Party Candidate for PRC District 3 in 2008.

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