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New Mexico needs a better energy plan

The incoming administration may not sufficiently grasp the opportunities, and the dangers, inherent in the climate, energy and economic crises breaking upon us. We are in an emergency situation.

It is all too easy to see energy issues through a neoliberal lens. Disaster for New Mexico lies that way.

We need instead a human-scaled, democratic vision of energy production, one where state and local government, tribes, citizens and businesses – not corporations and financiers – are the ones investing in and owning it. Government should clear the obstacles and provide the incentives to make that happen, fast.

Localize, don’t globalize.

Unless locally financed, owned, built and managed – unless designed to meet demand in our own communities and industries but not elsewhere – unless social goals remain uppermost, renewable energy will neither help New Mexico nor lower greenhouse gas emissions.

To lower emissions we must produce and consume less fuel. Adding renewable energy doesn’t do that exactly. There are good ways to do it, with strong conservative appeal – like greenhouse gas taxes and dividends, among other possibilities.

Would increasing the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for electricity generation from the present 20 percent to 50 percent by 2030, as requested by the governor and environmental groups, lower emissions, create jobs and strengthen communities?

Not much, no and no.

Last fall New Mexico utilities produced, purchased or simply took from customers enough renewably sourced electricity to provide 22.5 percent of generation. Yet after 15 years of an RPS, only about 2 percent of New Mexico’s overall energy production is renewable. Our energy consumption is still about 90 percent from fossil fuels.

With a four-fold increase in oil production over the past decade, New Mexico’s energy portfolio is getting browner, not greener. Democrats and Republicans alike are celebrating. Will environmental groups withdraw support for Democrats over this? Are they serious about the climate, or do they just want to play the game?

Electricity accounts for less than half of energy consumption. Were New Mexico to magically reach 50 percent or 80 percent renewable electricity tomorrow, the state would still be a major contributor to climate collapse, both from fossil fuel production and from consumption in our wasteful buildings and transportation system.

Utility-scale renewable energy creates few jobs, which is why it is cheap. Once built, even fewer jobs remain. With a least-cost RPS New Mexicans would not even inherit the wind or the sun. Those would be privatized and sold for a mess of cheap energy porridge and naive environmental votes.

We are poised to entrench existing monopolies, build inappropriately scaled projects with substantial out-of-state labor and continue suburban sprawl that will plague us forever. Meanwhile we require little energy efficiency and offer few transportation alternatives.

Helping California grow by adding New Mexico renewable energy, which is basically what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposes, will only add to our collective delusions and greenhouse gases. Nothing that facilitates growth in overall energy use, as this would, can be green or socially conscious.

We could use energy production and efficiency, sustainable transportation and education at all levels to build skills, careers and resilient communities. A long policy menu is available.

We could foster empowered, self-respecting citizens, the sort required for what we used to call “democracy.”

We could be producers, stewards, major-domos, not just consumers – which is to say, peasants.

We could opt for a different kind of prosperity, one that puts people and the living landscape over profits for banks and hedge funds.

We could cut our energy use substantially, creating thousands of accessible jobs while lowering emissions, improving our building stock and quality of life and saving money.

We could maximize solar production on most public buildings and offer not just some, but sufficient, incentives for a massive build-out of distributed and on-site solar power.

If we let government give away even more renewable energy to investor-owned corporations, and even more land and water for new suburbs, what will be left here? Why would young people stay?