A FEW YEARS ago I toured the massive coal-burning power plant that has generated much of New Mexico’s electricity for the last 40 years. It’s a huge, impressive behemoth of a plant. And, like the behemoths of the age of the dinosaurs, its time has come. San Juan Generating Station should be retired, not retooled.
Coal is a dirty, outdated fuel. It causes smog and lung problems, emits mercury into the air and spews the carbon dioxide that is warming up our world, causing droughts and threatening our water supply. Coal is said to be affordable, but if PNM had to pay for the health problems caused by coal pollution, our utility bills would surge.
Luckily, clean energy technologies are becoming more practical all the time. The cost of solar-electric panels has dropped by 50 percent in the last 10 years. On a sunny day this summer, Germany generated nearly half its electricity from solar panels. Germany is not known for its sun, but it has invested in clean energy. Imagine what the Southwest U.S. could do if we committed our resources to becoming solar and wind capital of our nation.
It is time to make firm deadlines for the phasing out of the four units of San Juan Generating Station, and look ahead to what will take their place. Coal was the electricity source of the 20th century. We are living in a new century, and we need a new source.