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SF forum debates publicly owned utility

SANTA FE – Cash, public interest and, perhaps most importantly, political will – all will be needed as Santa Fe city and county continue to explore the possibility of a publicly owned electric utility, speakers at a recent forum on the subject said.

Former Santa Fe County Commissioner Paul Campos declared that Santa Fe “cannot sit back any longer and say, ‘Let’s let the big utilities make their decisions.'”

“They’ve made their decisions and I think now is the time to consider changes,” Campos said.

WINTER: Political will is necessary here

WINTER: Political will is necessary here

Campos was among the speakers at the discussion, held at the Scottish Rite Temple and hosted by the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County, the Sierra Club and New Energy Economy.

Karl Rábago, the former vice president of municipal utility Austin Energy in Texas, said a big question in the debate is whether the current systems in place in most areas – privately owned and geared toward profits – can adapt to the need for cleaner and more efficient energy and other increasingly urgent demands.

Attorney Nann Winter said the most important aspect of Santa Fe’s journey toward a publicly owned electric utility will be political will.

Winter worked on an ultimately ill-fated quest by the city of Las Cruces to acquire its own electric utility. She said the multiyear process was eventually derailed by a city councilor who was elected with help from the area’s private power supplier.

“I can’t emphasize enough the political will that is necessary here. What you are doing will likely (last) through several municipal election cycles” and a few gubernatorial cycles, Winter said.

CAMPOS: It’s “time to consider changes”

CAMPOS: It’s “time to consider changes”

The idea of a locally owned utility has been talked about in Santa Fe for several years. In 2010, a city-county Regional Planning Authority’s energy task force suggested that local governments study the idea of operating a power utility.

A preliminary economic feasibility study produced nearly a year ago for the city, county and New Energy Economy said a locally owned electricity utility could mean greater renewable energy use, lower customer bills and more local jobs.

However, start-up expenses, including the cost of acquiring PNM’s distribution infrastructure, could be more than $200 million, the study said.

“The question is, what kind of community do we want to create?” Campos asked. “As we have heard, this is about political will. Do we want to do the right thing?”