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Scapegoating renewable energy for outages reflects political agenda

Last week is what climate change looks and feels like. Death Valley hit 130 degrees; California was pounded by dry lightning; and we experienced the worst West-wide heatwave in 14 years.

Replacing climate-heating fuels like coal and gas with renewable energy is crucial to preventing even more catastrophic weather events. As the CEO of the California grid operator said last week, if we don’t build more renewables and battery storage soon to slow down climate change, these heatwaves will get worse and more frequent.

Some commenters – mostly conservatives with a pro-fossil-fuel agenda – have tried to scapegoat renewables for the recent outages. This rush to judgment is based on politics, not facts. California agencies are conducting an investigation into what happened, and we do not know all of the facts surrounding why the outages happened.

It is odd, to say the least, that some people have blamed the California outages on renewables when the outages were caused, at least in part, by two large gas plants going offline unexpectedly. The commenters who have rushed to blame renewables have ignored the role played by these gas plants failing to generate power when needed.

While California investigates what caused the outages, what is clear is that everyone has long known how renewables operate: Solar and wind output can change with the weather. It’s the job of the utilities and their regulators to make sure there is enough power to cover our needs. And it’s their job to properly plan. California failed to properly plan and balance its system.

Here, in New Mexico, we didn’t experience blackouts. So it was sad to see the Journal Editorial Board last week blame renewables that haven’t even been built yet for blackouts that didn’t happen.

The Editorial Board reacted to a Facebook post from PNM noting that cloud cover might reduce their solar production one afternoon. PNM asked customers to conserve energy in light of the heatwave.

Why did the Editorial Board denounce renewables because PNM merely asked customers to conserve energy for a few hours on one day during an unprecedented, West-wide heatwave? Utilities regularly urge customers to use energy more efficiently, precisely because it is cheaper to shift energy usage to times of day when less energy is used than it is to build new power plants.

The Energy Transition Act and the Public Regulation Commission’s July decision to replace San Juan coal plant’s polluting power with 100% solar energy plus battery storage – all to be built in the impacted communities to renew jobs and taxes – and energy efficiency is just the kind of solution we need to avoid worsening blackouts.

The Energy Transition Act brings on renewable energy and battery storage slowly but surely, allowing the system to integrate the new technology. The new renewables and battery storage that the Public Regulation Commission approved will not come online until the summer of 2022 – roughly two years from now. Even then, these new renewables and storage will represent only a portion of PNM’s total power supply. Importantly, the commission approved 300 MW of battery storage. This will enable PNM to charge the batteries when renewable output is high but demand is low, and then use the batteries to provide energy when demand is high – during times like the August heatwave.

Let’s get clear on the facts: Fossil fuels are causing climate change. We are living through climate change right now. Heatwaves are a major symptom of global warming. Transition to renewables and battery storage is a key solution. Thoughtful solutions, not clinging to the status quo and scapegoating renewables, will help utilities manage the transition.

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