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Lawmakers failed to take steps needed to reach ambitious goal

The Renewable Portfolio Standard will not get us to Paris in 2025 or 2030.

Twenty-three U.S. states have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a nonbinding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with New Mexico joining in January 2019. As part of the 2015 Paris Treaty, the alliance pledges to reduce each state’s total emissions 26-28 percent by 2025 and 45 percent by 2030 from peak greenhouse gas levels recorded in 2005.

Over a 14-year period, 2005-2018, New Mexico reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 12-15 percent in large measure by replacing some coal-generated electricity capacity with methane and by bringing some renewable energy into the mix. We will not get to the Renewable Portfolio Standard benchmark – which mandates 20 percent renewable energy – by 2020, sadly, due to “exceptions” and cap structures written into the 2007 Renewable Portfolio Standard legislation. We will only achieve 12-15 percent.

However, following passage of the Energy Transition Act, SB 489, this session, New Mexico is now one of three states that has an RPS goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. Many in government and some environmental groups are calling this RPS extension “transformational.”

New Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 are projected to be roughly 80 million metric tons, with 35 percent – 28 million metric tons – produced from making electricity. To achieve the first 26 percent reduction, New Mexico will need to reduce emissions by 13.4 million metric tons. By 2025 large utility companies will need to have 35 percent carbon-free power generation in their portfolios, which will likely result in a reduction of only 4.7 million metric tons. This huge 8.4 million metric tons shortfall is equivalent to converting all residential and commercial buildings in the entire state to using 100 percent renewable energy for heat in five years, a “Pluto-shot” by anyone’s calculation.

New Mexico will need to reduce emissions by another 20 percent to get to the 45 percent alliance level by 2030. The increase in the Renewable Portfolio Standard from 35 percent in 2025 to 50 percent in 2030 will only account for 2.6 million metric tons of new greenhouse gas emissions eliminated from the electricity sector. Another 14.5 million metric tons will need to be eliminated, which is equivalent to converting all our cars, trucks, and buses to 100 percent electric power in 10 years.

As it stands, New Mexico will not reach the Paris Treaty milestones without fundamentally changing its economy. Do we seriously believe our governing bodies can end our reliance on fossil fuels in the next five to 10 years, thus ending this huge tax base for the state in exchange for lowering our greenhouse gas emissions?

This past legislative session saw only one major energy bill (SB 489) pass, while two bills designed to allow residents freedom to choose by whom, and by what means, their electricity is generated from renewable sources (Local Choice and Community Solar); the securitization financing tool bill used to facilitate fossil-fuel power plant closures; a bill to open new renewable energy generation to a free-market bid procurement process; the 10 percent residential and commercial solar panel tax credit bill; an electric vehicle and home charging station tax credit bill, and others failed to get scheduled or make it through committee hearings.

Does New Mexico have the political will to become completely electrified using 100 percent renewable energy sources, a manufacturing hub for solar panels and wind turbines, in addition to exporting huge amounts of renewable energy from our abundant wind and solar potential? Could this transformation lead to economic prosperity for a state in desperate need, and fulfill our responsibility to lessen a disruption we have not yet fathomed?

Will incremental legislation and hesitation to provide bold transformative changes prevent New Mexico from succeeding in the new economy and meeting its obligation to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from its fossil-fuel based economy?

Richard Currie worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., before moving to Santa Fe in 2014.

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