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Editorial: Sun is shining on a new ABQ, NM energy source

California has been burning for weeks. Northern New Mexico remains in exceptional drought conditions. Seas are on average 9 inches higher. Heat waves are far more intense than just a few decades ago. And a federal report released Friday on the effects of climate change is raising the sense of urgency and alarm for mitigating extreme weather disasters.

Meanwhile, Albuquerque’s mayoral administration is embarking on a path to power city government with 100 percent renewable, clean energy within four years.

Last week, Mayor Tim Keller announced a partnership with Public Service Company of New Mexico that would have city-owned facilities using 25 of the 50 megawatts of electricity produced by a brand new solar generating station. That would put the city’s energy use at 58 percent renewables, compared to 4 percent today. Reducing energy use and installing $25 million worth of solar panels on city buildings are also part of the city’s road map to 100 percent renewable energy.

“This began when I signed the (Climate Paris Agreement) when I first took office, but it also means we cannot wait any longer to do all that we can to try and combat the damage caused by climate change to our environment, our economy and our way of life,” Keller says. “It also means taking concrete steps to reduce our carbon footprint, and also put Albuquerque on a more sustainable path and reducing the cost of that very electricity bill.”

The city spends about $1.2 million a month to power city buildings, and Keller says the transition is expected to save money in utility payments over the long term.

Add this initiative to PNM’s existing and two planned solar plants for Facebook’s campus in Los Lunas, the recent shuttering of two coal-fired units at PNM’s San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners, along with plans to replace the remaining two with natural gas units by 2020, and El Paso Electric going coal-free in 2016, and New Mexico electricity providers are clearly heeding not only market, but also climate science mandates.

For Albuquerque’s part, Keller says that “once fully implemented by 2022, these efforts will amount to removing the equivalent of 93,000 metric tons of (carbon dioxide) emissions every year. This reduction is about the same as taking almost 20,000 cars off the road in a year.”

It is a breathtaking change from 2012, when PNM, and thus ratepayers, were mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to spend up to $750 million retrofitting the 40-year-old coal units at San Juan with pollution controls, thus tying themselves to outdated, dirty energy technology. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Public Regulation Commissioners Jason Marks and Douglas Howe fought that and won.

Just six years later, the sun is literally shining on a new energy source for the Land of Enchantment. Other local, state and national governments – are you listening, Washington? – should join New Mexico and plug into this energy future.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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