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Power Independence for Santa Fe?

Santa Fe Reporter

While the Public Service Company of New Mexico figures out how to replace its coal-generated power, Santa Fe community leaders are again exploring the idea of setting up a municipal power utility or trying to purchase PNM’s local system outright.

To jump-start the idea, city Councilors Joseph Maestas, Peter Ives and Chris Rivera are backing a resolution that would direct city staff to hire an energy consultant to explore a pathway forward based on recommendations in a 2012 economic feasibility study. That report, commissioned by New Energy Economy, determined a municipal utility is economically practical.

Mariel Nanasi is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney who shifted her focus five years ago after being struck by the urgency of the climate crisis. Today, as the president and executive director of New Energy Economy, Nanasi is an outspoken attendee at PRC hearings and is one of the driving forces behind the City of Santa Fe’s exploring the option to establish a municipal electric utility or purchase PNM’s local power system.

Nanasi is not a lone voice. More than 1,000 people, as far away as the Netherlands, have signed New Energy Economy’s petition in support of the proposed municipal power ordinance.

“Solar and wind can create a sustainable future for New Mexico.”

-Therese Williams

“PNM has let the citizens down for years so we must move on without them.”

-Leslie Barclay

“We need to reclaim our democracy from large corporations by localizing power and its control in all forms within our local communities.”

-Thomas French

“Excellent idea.”

-Bill Stern

“This is a wonderful initiative.”

-Mark Nelson

“A perfect way to demonstrate the vision of a better world.”

-Susan H Bell

“We have a history in this state that goes back generations. Investing in coal and nuclear threatens the land people have taken care of for many centuries. Just like our parents and grandparents handed us a better New Mexico, we have a moral obligation to be responsible caretakers, and that requires more, not less investment in clean energy.”

-Patricia Gallegos

“Pollution from dirty power plants endangers our community and our children’s health. Furthermore, it pollutes the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Increasing coal and nuclear at a time when solar and wind are available and can create jobs we desperately need doesn’t make sense.”

-Vicente Garcia

The resolution cleared the Public Utilities Committee on Dec. 3 and is next scheduled for discussion by the Finance Committee on Jan. 5 with a potential vote before the full City Council as early as Jan. 14.

Supporters claim a locally operated utility could be set up within five years. It would, they contend, be more aligned with residents’ conservation values. Their goals: increase power generated from renewable sources, save millions of gallons of water used to generate coal and nuclear power, and keep revenue generated from ratepayers flowing locally.

Ives isn’t waiting until the parameters of a full-scale utility are developed. He’s also drafted a Santa Fe Public Power Ordinance, which would provide sustainable energy products like solar and wind directly to consumers in new developments.

“The people of Santa Fe seek electric energy supplied in a reliable, fiscally sound and environmentally responsible manner,” says Ives. His constituents have expressed concerns about dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Consumers, Ives says, have signaled they no longer want power from coal or nuclear sources.

A public power utility isn’t a new idea. Former Santa Fe County Commissioner Paul Campos remembers talking about working with the city on the idea seven years ago. Those discussions led to the economic study. MSA Capital Partners estimated the cost to acquire PNM’s local assets could range from $155 million to $255 million and showed monthly electric rates could drop between 9 to 35 percent.

Executives at PNM have followed the debate, but insist they’re not interested in selling their system after investing $432.8 million in infrastructure upgrades since 2009.

“We are interested in collaboration,” says PNM spokeswoman Susan Sponar, aware that customers want most of their energy load generated from renewable sources.

PNM’s top priority, Sponar says, is to maintain reliability at affordable rates.

“We are committed to adding renewable energy to the system and, by the end of 2015, we will have enough renewable energy to power 150,000 average homes statewide,” says Sponar, adding that the company’s own Energy Efficiency Rebates have already saved Santa Fe customers $1.3 million and reduced energy consumption by 18.3 million kilowatt hours—enough to power 2,500 homes.

Wind and solar currently only comprise 6.6 percent of PNM’s energy portfolio. For public utility proponents, that’s not enough.

“We have to do this today,” says Campos. “PNM hasn’t acted quickly enough, and that’s left a lot of people frustrated. We can’t wait for investor-backed utilities to get their act together.”

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