The recent crisis announcement by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes clear the extreme seriousness of the world’s situation. To avoid disaster, we require immediate change to convert old energy systems to renewable energy.
Fossil fuel plants, such as (those used by) PNM, produce large amounts of centralized energy to take advantage of economies of scale. Now, such economies are overshadowed by needs to decarbonize energy production.
Traditionally, electric utilities – natural monopolies – have been regulated to ensure quality, pricing, rate of return and appropriateness of investments. The Public Regulation Commission is currently developing such rules for the Avangrid merger, with the addition of new rules for community solar and related interconnection needs.
Regulated utilities make investment decisions to maximize profits, rather than to foster economic efficiency. With the merger, Avangrid acquires the grid for much of the state, together with extensive energy production systems. It seems obvious that this corporation plans to expand energy exportation to California and Texas through this grid. Conversely, New Mexico citizens have different interests: meeting our power needs, while addressing climate change in a cost-effective and fair way.
New methods for renewable energy production and storage are being developed by private companies, university researchers and such national laboratories as the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Decentralization, i.e. localization, of energy production using photovoltaics and wind – less polluting sources of electric power with lower costs – can also cut the energy losses that occur with long distribution systems.
Jointly, a distributed grid (DG) with decentralized power production (DP) will require much planning and investment. We are concerned about Avangrid’s interest in undertaking such efforts. A comprehensive approach to DG and DP was not part of the recent PRC process.
1. Will Avangrid modernize and “smarten” the grid to facilitate distributed generation?
From the U.S. NREL: “Decentralized control … provides a new paradigm for resilience, protecting against natural disasters and cyberattacks.” DG requires a more complex management system than traditional energy generation: it requires a “smart grid.”
2. How will Avangrid interact with new community organizations to decentralize electricity production? Will Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) requirements be satisfied by Avangrid?
Community-based energy producers should be the carriers of decentralization. These smaller producers allow for community choice in the means of production and distribution in accord with local conditions and preferences. Having a local base for electricity production also promotes economic development more than the $25 million economic development offered by Avangrid.
PURPA specifically enabled parties besides the regulated monopoly utility industry to enter the electricity generation market. Under PURPA, an investor-owned utility must allow community-based solar producers and nonprofits to participate in energy production.
3. How will the public be involved in planning and investment decisions?
PNM’s recent Integrated Resource Plan plots a course to zero emissions with disposition of the Four Corners plant. Replacing Four Corners is only a small part of what is needed. The public must be involved in planning power production, siting, pricing and ameliorating social impacts for new production and distribution systems.
In summary, an alternative to current large-scale polluting and wasteful energy production exists. That alternative – community solar – is about not only new technologies, but also social organization. As suggested by newenergyeconomy.org, “Can justice prevail in New Mexico?” the alternative must be public power.
The authors are members of Ward 17B of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, which is initiating a state Environmental Justice Caucus.