The impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by low-income and minority communities—and those same people could be left behind as the state works to combat this crisis if equity is not placed at the center of conversations, according to panelists who spoke during the 2021 Climate Summit in Santa Fe this week. Low-income and minority communities also form a large portion of the fossil fuel work force, where they face low wages, long working hours and dangerous conditions, as highlighted by members of the group Somos Un Pueblo Unido who have family members working in the oil fields near Hobbs. During a panel discussion on Tuesday, they described 15-hour work days, including during extreme heat, that leaves workers exhausted. But, at the same time, the low-wages mean they are living from paycheck to paycheck. Low-income households tend to face a greater energy burden, meaning more of their earnings go to paying utility bills than other households.
Global supply chain challenges may make it hard for the state’s largest utility to meet electricity demands next summer and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is concerned that these could include unanticipated problems.
These supply chain challenges were sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had impacts like slowing manufacturing and changing consumer demands. This has delayed a couple major solar projects in New Mexico that are intended to replace the electricity from the San Juan Generating Station. The PRC is concerned that this could lead to challenges meeting electricity demand next summer after the San Juan Generating Station is scheduled to stop providing power to the state’s largest electric utility. Commissioner Joseph Maestas raised the topic during the regular meeting on Wednesday. Maestas brought it up in connection to solar projects that are intended to replace the San Juan Generating Station and have been delayed.
When Stephanie Garcia Richard took the office of State Land Commissioner following the 2018 elections, she had the goal of tripling renewable energy development on state lands. “We are very rapidly closing in on that goal two years later,” Garcia Richard told NM Political Report. There were 453 megawatts of renewable energy when she took office. That has more than doubled in the past couple of years and the State Land Office has inked deals for even more future projects. Angie Poss, a spokesperson for the State Land Office, said 466 megawatts have been added since Garcia Richard took office and, with the upcoming projects, the office will definitely get to the goal of tripling renewable energy on state trust land.
New Mexico’s largest electric utility is planning to reduce its baseload power while increasing power generated by renewable sources and possibly adding natural gas generation with turbines capable of producing power from hydrogen.
Baseload generation provides a relatively steady supply of power. Currently, Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, relies on coal-fired power plants and a nuclear generating station to provide baseload power. The company filed a 2020 integrated resource plan with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission in January and is awaiting approval includes exiting coal in 2024 and reducing its capacity in Palo Verde Generating Station, which provides nuclear power.
An integrated resource plan is essentially a roadmap looking at where the utility wants to be in the future.
While the plans provide a roadmap for going forward, they are not a set-in-stone path. PNM’s 2014 integrated resource plan indicated the San Juan Generating Station would remain operating until 2053. Three years later, the utility announced that it would close the coal-fired power plant in 2022.
The company that owns New Mexico’s largest utility PNM is being acquired by Avangrid, a Connecticut-based utility owner, in a merger deal totalling $8.3 billion. The two companies announced the deal early Wednesday.
Avangrid operates natural gas and electric utilities and renewable energy generation assets across 24 states. The investor-owned company’s headquarters are located in Orange, Connecticut, but the majority shareholder is Spain-based Iberdrola, S.A., which is the third largest utility company in the world.
Avangrid’s renewable energy-focused arm is considered one of the largest in the world. It’s the third largest wind energy operator in the U.S., with 7.4 gigawatts of installed wind and solar capacity. The company owns 1.9-gigawatt capacity wind projects in New Mexico and Texas and 200 megawatts of wind and solar capacity in Arizona.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered remarks from a solar array in northern New Mexico, which were aired during the virtual Demcoratic National Convention on Wednesday night. Lujan Grisham spoke from the Kit Carson Co-Op’s solar array at Northern New Mexico College in El Rito—though the caption said it was in Albuquerque—about climate change and other environmental issues. And she said there was a clear choice between the two candidates this November. “We know time is running out to save our planet. We have the chance this November to end two existential crises: The Trump presidency and the environmental annihilation he represents,” Lujan Grisham said.
The state House passed a memorial that would direct the State Investment Council (SIC) to explore investment opportunities in renewable energy, transmission and storage. HM 9 directs the SIC and the State Land Office to collaborate together on developing a strategic plan for investing in renewables and related projects within the state. “The goal of this memorial is to invest more renewables in our state,” said Democratic Rep. and bill sponsor Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde. “Our state has the second highest solar density in the country, second to the Mojave Desert in California. The renewable industry is booming in other states, this is a great opportunity to move forward in this area.”
Inside the New Mexico State Land Office, current Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sits at a dark wood desk ringed with a painting of the Rio Grande Gorge, a saddle, and a pair of leather chaps pinned on the wall, homages to a lifetime spent on cattle ranches. But it’s the decor outside that tends to draw more attention: Dunn installed a model pump jack in front of the State Land Office building on Old Santa Fe Trail. Its bobbing head —powered by a solar panel — is a familiar sight in oil country. From that desk, he manages the state’s land trust: 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate. It’s his job to maximize revenue from those acres through leases for businesses, grazing and rights-of-way, royalties from mining potash, coal, salt and caliche, and above all, fossil fuels, which accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office.
This week, the Trump administration announced it was imposing new tariffs on imported solar panels and modules—a move that will hit installation companies and consumers alike. But in the New Mexico State Legislature a trio of Democratic state representatives wants to give solar development in New Mexico a boost. House Bill 87 would give people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000. If passed, the bill would authorize the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to pay out up to $5 million in tax credits for the year. The bill is sponsored by Reps.
Last June, Gov. Susana Martinez joined incident commanders and U.S. Forest Service officials to update local residents on yet another forest fire. She had already declared a state of emergency and called in the state National Guard for the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque. Since taking office five years earlier, Martinez had presided over similar meetings across New Mexico while various fires and millions of acres of forest burned. With global warming, the number and size of fires has increased and fire season has lengthened by about two months in the western United States. Even a 2005 report prepared by the state warned that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable to “catastrophic” wildfires and massive diebacks.