New Mexico Commits to 100

March 22, 2019 | 3:12 pm
Julie McNamara
Senior Energy Analyst

This is where the dazzling new policy that commits New Mexico to 100-percent carbon-free electricity begins: at an uneconomic coal plant, and a bankrupt coal mine, with a collection of workers and communities careening toward change.

This is where it starts. Not with the bright horizon, but with the painstaking untangling of a half-century’s dependence on coal and the implications of that coal now imminently going away.

Because in New Mexico, after years of advocacy, of analysis, of championing what could be, the brilliant promise of the state’s clean energy potential has finally snapped into focus, vivid and sharp. For the state, achieving that potential has become a vision shared.

Indeed, the end goal is now clear—it’s how to navigate from the present that’s not.

Or at least, not until today.

Because today, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Energy Transition Act (SB 489), a landmark bill that unites in common cause the needs of today and tomorrow: a proactive response to the ongoing and inevitable shift away from coal coupled with an ambitious commitment to make the state’s enormous clean energy potential a reality.

This is where it starts: with a promise that the path to the future is a path that can be traveled by all.

The Energy Transition Act

The Energy Transition Act is centered around a single irrevocable truth: the economics of coal simply no longer bear out. It costs more to keep the state’s coal plants running than it does to build cleaner and cheaper resources to take their place. Across the country, these economic headwinds have knocked the coal sector to its knees, fortunes tumbling, viability bleak.

But confronting that truth takes courage, because confronting that truth means change—the loss of jobs, of incomes, of economic activity and support. It means legislators reckoning with the hardship of reality, instead of the ease of pretending that change won’t come. It means taking action before the closures have occurred, and striving to navigate a forward course—to new jobs, new economic opportunities, new ways to keep communities whole.

So this is where it starts.

The Energy Transition Act acknowledges that coal retirements are happening, and figures out how best to act. It strives to keep the economics of the transition as cost-effective as possible while also ensuring that some of those cost savings are directly deployed to support the coal workers and coal communities impacted by the shift—through workforce retraining, economic development, severance pay and reclamation. It also directs replacement power to the region, helping to replace the eroded tax base. In the end, the Energy Transition Act is a compromise based on the belief that for the state to truly move forward, it cannot ignore the needs of the workers and communities who brought it to today.

And then it looks ahead.

The Energy Transition Act catalyzes the state’s clean energy transition, setting it on an ambitious forward course. It takes the state’s current renewables standard of 20 percent by 2020 and extends it out—jumping to 50 percent renewables by 2030, and 80 percent by 2040.

And then, by 2045, the Energy Transition Act commits the state to a power sector that’s 100-percent carbon-free. And it brings the coops along, too, with the same standards on just a slightly slower timeline, ensuring that the whole state is a part of the transition ahead.

This commitment enshrines New Mexico as a clean energy leader, becoming only the third state after Hawaii and California to set itself on a path to zero-carbon electricity.

Critically, by setting the vision and establishing the targets, the Energy Transition Act ensures that the state does not simply replace coal with gas, an overreliance on which risks a similar future fate as a power sector now reliant on coal. Instead, this policy commits to a resilient forward course, a robust framework in which all future investment decisions must be made. And in the process, it makes sure that the state’s workers and businesses will have the opportunity to take part as the clean energy economy takes off, making workforce training and apprenticeships a key part of the Act.

The Energy Transition Act is a bold policy at a time demanding bold action, carefully balancing the challenges and opportunities of the moment at hand to thoughtfully navigate a power sector from fossil-fueled to fossil-free in a quarter century flat.

The courage to lead

This January, Governor Lujan Grisham swept into office on the heels of a campaign filled with aims to achieve change, not least among these a goal to drive the state forward on clean energy progress after so long spent spinning its wheels. She campaigned from atop a wind turbine and touted renewables targets equally sky-high. She acknowledged climate change as the existential threat that it is, and she committed to act.

And this is where the action starts: with the courage to confront the challenges of the energy transition head-on. To recognize and reckon with the fact that reaching the clean energy horizon means first overcoming the lasting legacies of a coal-fired past. That the opportunities are boundless, that the state has so much to look ahead to, that this is the right path—and that it doesn’t have to come at the cost of those who the transition threatens to leave behind. Indeed, for the state to truly advance, they must be just as much a part of the benefits and opportunities to come.

So this is where it starts. This is where momentous policy change begins. Feet first on the ground, then eyes to the horizon, offering a commitment to today hand-in-hand with a commitment to that which must come.