April 17, 2019

Electric vehicles can benefit all New Mexicans


Electric cars charging. Pixabay

New Mexico is quickly rising as a clean energy leader.

The state had the fastest-growing wind industry in the nation in 2017. The landmark Energy Transition Act signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham sets the stage for further economic growth in the clean energy sector and cements New Mexico as a national leader, while the Energy Efficiency Act increases investments in efficiency while boosting the economy through job creation.

The story is familiar by now: New Mexicans love clean energy and want to see this industry keep growing to help clean our air and water and to create good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

Here’s the less familiar story: Electric vehicles—which help support clean energy development, local job growth, lower utility costs, and also clean up our air—can help New Mexico rise even higher as a clean energy leader.

A bill recently passed by the Legislature will help pave the way for utilities to deploy vehicle charging stations throughout the state, with prioritization in underserved communities. In other states, electric vehicles and their accompanying vehicle chargers can be found in wealthy suburbs. In New Mexico’s legislation, rural and low-income areas will benefit from the start.

Electric vehicles represent a small but growing market share of all vehicles. The more we see them on our streets and highways, the more benefits we’ll all accrue. Because they run increasingly on a clean power grid, electric vehicles mean less air pollution and healthier communities. New Mexico’s rural and low income areas are most-often hurt by bad environmental policies. These communities can be prioritized so that clean energy will serve all New Mexicans.  When these charging stations are installed with local labor and distributed equitably, we all benefit.

At an economy-wide level, these new vehicles will help jumpstart a new industry with good-paying jobs in technology, engineering, and construction. Charging infrastructure can be built in every corner of the state for people who need this technology the most.

This new sector will help whole communities run on cleaner vehicles. We can re-imagine what transportation in our state can look like without leaving underserved communities behind. With the right infrastructure in place, electric vehicles will be available for city and town fleets, public transit and school buses, and ride-sharing services for people who don’t have access to a car or are unable to drive.

Numerous studies have shown that the more electric vehicles on the road, the more all customers will save on their utility bills. For example, studies by MJ Bradley & Associates, show widespread electric vehicle adoption in our neighboring states of Colorado and Arizona would result in $9 billion and $4.1 billion in total savings by 2050, respectively. We can all save with more electric vehicles on the road and New Mexico customers in rural and low income communities don’t have to be left out.

These aren’t just predictions. This is really happening. A recent Synapse study in California, where EV adoption rates are highest, found that from 2012 to 2017, EV drivers in two utility service territories contributed $322 million more in revenues above and beyond the cost of providing electricity to EV customers.

The electric vehicle economy also directly benefits greater adoption of clean energy. Electric vehicles are powerful tools for utilities to help manage energy supply and take full advantage of renewable energy resources. For example, through smart rate design, drivers can be encouraged to charge their cars during the day when solar energy production is high, or overnight when wind energy production is at its peak.

Vehicle batteries can also be used as backup power capacity, which can be re-deployed to the grid when needed. Electric vehicles become an essential part of a modern electric grid that can be used to help provide the cleanest energy at the lowest cost.

That’s why electric vehicle charging infrastructure should be considered right next to wind and solar energy as an essential part of New Mexico’s clean energy economy as we continue to grow as a national clean energy leader. Equitable distribution of charging infrastructure will help bring new jobs, cleaner air, and lower energy bills for all residents, not just those in New Mexico’s urban centers.

Abraham Sanchez, a Community Organizer with New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (NM CAFÉ), is based in Las Cruces, NM