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NM commits to clean energy

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, surrounded by state lawmakers, Cabinet officials and others, signs the Energy Transition Act during a ceremony inside the Roundhouse on Friday (top photo).

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Friday cementing New Mexico’s commitment to a carbon-free energy system within 25 years – the first state law of its kind in the nation, supporters said.

The measure, Senate Bill 489, is the result of 14 months of legislative hearings and negotiations involving utility companies, environmental advocates and community groups. A similar proposal failed in the 2018 legislative session.

But this year’s version picked up bipartisan support after a series of hard-fought amendments.

“We are leading the country today,” Lujan Grisham declared Friday during a news conference at the Capitol.

The legislation authorizes the use of bonds for Public Service Company of New Mexico to pay for costs associated with closing a coal-fired power plant in the Four Corners area. Supporters of the new law say market forces – not legislative action – are forcing the San Juan Generating Station to close.

The bill authorizes creation of two new funds for economic development and worker retraining to mitigate the impact of closing the San Juan coal plant and mine. It also establishes apprenticeship requirements aimed at ensuring New Mexico residents are trained and entering the clean-energy workforce.

“This is something that will create jobs – will create a sustainable future for us as New Mexicans,” said Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces.

The new law phases in requirements for PNM and other public utilities to shift to carbon-free energy generation by 2045. They will have to derive 50 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.

The goal is to move to wind and solar energy, rather than fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

“These are difficult targets,” Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque said. “This is not showboating.”

But he said the number of different constituencies working on and endorsing the legislation – from environmental to business groups – underscored the strength of the bill.

A small coalition of Democratic lawmakers took the lead on the legislation, including Candelaria, Small, Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe.

Stewart said the governor’s role in negotiations was critical. At one point, she said, supporters thought they might have to back away from some of the renewable energy standards, only to have Lujan Grisham insist they remain intact.

“To me, this bill is really a miracle,” Stewart said.

The proposal passed the Senate 32-9 during one of the most dramatic nights of the session. Passage came after a four-hour filibuster and procedural fight that interrupted the Legislature’s annual charity basketball game.

Some senators returned to the Roundhouse that night in T-shirts and shorts to participate in the vote.

The bill later passed the House 43-22 in the final days of the session.

Among opponents were coal miners and at least one environmental group. They argued that the bill didn’t do enough to help ordinary workers, that the Four Corners plant still could be saved and that the legislation interfered with the normal regulatory process.

Still, the proposal picked up significant bipartisan support among lawmakers.

Environmental advocates said Friday that other states have established renewable energy goals, but none has committed to them in the same way New Mexico has in the new law, called the Energy Transition Act.

“Given New Mexico’s abundance of sun and wind, the Land of Enchantment should rightfully be the Land of Clean Energy,” Sanders Moore of Environment New Mexico said.

PNM President, Chairman and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn said her company began the transition from coal to clean energy in 2017.

“PNM is fully aware of the challenges this legislation places squarely on our company,” she said, “but we know there is no better place than New Mexico to grow the renewable energy economy, and we will take this challenge head on by working together to power our economy, protect our environment, and produce clean, affordable, and reliable energy for all New Mexicans.”

Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, said the legislation is an example to other states in the West and reflects his nation’s embrace of renewable energy.

“We’d like to be the leader in Indian Country,” he said.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who won office last year, said the signing ceremony “is a day I will remember for my entire life and career.”

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