A recent proposal by two Democratic legislators would put New Mexico on an ambitious path towards a future powered by renewable sources of energy. The proposal would require PNM and other non-government utilities to gradually increase the amount of electricity supplied by wind and solar with a target of 80% of total energy produced by 2040:
The initiative calls for one of the more aggressive transitions toward renewable energy in the country. It would place New Mexico on a similar trajectory to California and New York, which are planning for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Hawaii aims to shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
The champions of the legislation are Senator Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and Representative Nathan Small of Las Cruces. Stewart claims it “makes sense for New Mexico to take better advantage of its intense high-desert sunlight and wind resources to produce electricity”.
The progressive, bleeding heart mentality driving this legislation is illogical for two reasons. First, those pushing for renewable sources of energy are blissfully unaware or ignorant of the added costs of imposing such mandates. Those costs generally fall into three categories:
- The costs of gas plants which are the “enabling factor” that provide the fast reacting capability needed when wind or solar energy output fluctuates (the electric grid must always be balanced since no economical method to store power on an industrial scale currently exists). Renewable energy is driven by the weather and as such is volatile – and some energy source (most likely natural gas) will be required to make up the difference.
- The costs of the transmission infrastructure needed to transport wind and solar generation from the windy east of New Mexico to load centers in the west, with California as the ultimate goal. Unlike oil and gas, electricity cannot be (economically) transported by semi-trucks from production to consumption. Land rights must be negotiated and transmission lines constructed.
- The opportunity costs associated with investing resources in solar or wind energy over other more economical sources of electricity with a higher capacity factor. Governor Susana Martinez announced on Wednesday that PNM would invest $37 million in a new contract with an Albuquerque-based company to build a solar farm to power the Facebook data center. The PR potential and federal tax incentives convinced PNM execs the deal ultimately made sense, but it is worth remembering that that capitol could have instead been spent to provide everyday New Mexicans with more affordable power. But in an operating environment that is challenging and uncertain, it is hard to blame the decision makers (as a matter of disclosure I work for PNM).
The second reason an astronomical increase in renewables is illogical is renewable efforts that are supposed to reduce the use of fossil fuels have actually had the opposite effect: natural gas use has increased in areas with mandates for higher renewable energy use. In California for example natural gas went from 35% to 44% of the state’s total electricity supply from 2000 to 2015.
Senator Stewart, one of the sponsors of the renewable initiative, is concerned that climate change will cause us to “lose our plants and wildlife and habitable living environment” and therefore we must move away from fossil fuels. While the irony is lost on her and other environmentalist sheep blindly following the progressive push for less carbon powered energy, it is not lost on everyone. Many, including some environmental groups, rightly debate the potential consequences of the renewable and grid expansion push, including concerns that it will increase carbon emissions and that it is a drive by Warren Buffet to get others to pay for grid improvements that would largely benefit utility companies owned by him.
Finally, the election of Donald Trump is another variable that will have an impact on energy production and development, with an expectation of an administration more friendly to carbon energy. California Governor Jerry Brown and other west coast liberals might have pledged to double down on their progressive agenda, but New Mexico lawmakers instead would be wise to support energy policies that promote job creation, oil production, as well as dependable and affordable electricity. Regardless of the motivations behind the renewable energy push, New Mexico families simply cannot afford the renewable energy pipedream; a paradox between a drive for clean renewable energy and the subsequent higher carbon emissions as a result of a dependence on electricity from gas-fired power plants.