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We need an electricity choice in New Mexico

We moved to Santa Fe from Towson, Md., where we lived for 14 years. When we first lived in Maryland, our electricity was generated from non-renewable, polluting sources (coal, oil, gas and nuclear), just like in New Mexico today. In 2012, Maryland had the 4th-highest residential electricity bills and was the 3rd-highest importer of power in the nation.

As a response to high energy costs, Maryland legislators opened up the electricity utility market to free competition, requiring utility companies to open generation to other competitive companies, while continuing to maintain transmission lines and billing. In this open-market system, utilities now either purchase or generate electricity locally, and undergo a transparent bid solicitation process overseen by the Maryland Public Service Commission to provide renewable, low-cost electricity to all consumers.

New Mexico has an opportunity this legislative session to begin its own just transition toward a renewable energy market. Senate Bill 374, the Local Choice Energy Act, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces) and Sen. Benny Shendo Jr. (D-Jemez Pueblo), is the legislation that makes it possible. Even better, New Mexico has the wide open spaces and abundant natural resources of wind and solar to far outdistance what was accomplished in Maryland.

Beginning in 2000, Maryland electricity rates were fixed for a 6-year period to allow the system to transition to an open-choice market. In response to additional Maryland state legislation, utilities were required to increase the percent of renewable energy in their portfolios to 25 percent by 2020. By 2008, our family was purchasing 100 percent renewable electricity for our home at 11.9 cents per kilowatt hour, in contrast to other non-renewable average utility rates of 10.5 cents/kWh.

As of 2019, the cost of providing 100 percent wind power to Maryland consumers was 7.1 cents/kWh, in contrast to our current PNM average rate for our home in Santa Fe of 10.2 cents/kWh. A mere 10 percent of our electricity is generated by PNM from renewable sources, and this includes the fact that PNM counts electricity from solar arrays on private residences and businesses toward its overall renewable portfolio, even though it didn’t pay a cent in producing that energy.

New Mexico consumers deserve the freedom to receive 100 percent renewable power as a choice, now. This will help stimulate power companies to seek out and more aggressively develop sources of renewable energy. SB 374 will greatly accelerate construction of new, local renewable energy sources in the next decade, helping to create thousands of jobs and allowing New Mexico to fulfill its responsibility to contribute to the Green New Deal.

The costs of generating renewable electricity continue to drop and it is now more affordable than any other type of fossil fuel generation. New Mexico state legislators are now considering legislation to raise the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), allow large-scale renewable energy projects to move forward (HB 275), mandate a competitive bidding process for choosing electricity resources (SB 456), and community solar, which allows subscribers to aggregate their buying power to produce solar off site that lowers costs (HB 210). All of that will help small and large utility companies accelerate their pace of transition. The combination of all these pieces of legislation will enable our state to reach 100 percent renewable energy generation well before 2050.

Consumers significantly benefit from open competition that can usher in lower electricity rates, clean-energy technology innovation that improves our energy infrastructure, and allow New Mexico to participate in global efforts that slow climate disruption.

Richard Currie worked at the National Institutes of Health in the Baltimore/Washington., D.C., area before moving to Santa Fe.