SB 374: Transformational Legislation to Make NM a Leader in Renewable Energy

Today’s post focuses exclusively on SB 374, what it is, and why it is so important. Introduced Monday by Sen. Steinborn, it will allow jurisdictions and tribes to produce, use and sell their own renewable energy, freeing them from dependence upon PNM and other public utilities. It is game changing. Read on.

Before analysis of SB 374 and what it can do for NM, two alerts

  • At 6pm last night a RetakeResponseNetwork.org Action Alert was sent to over 1200 members to inform them of a House Education Hearing in Room 309. at 8am today on HJR-1, Permanent Funding for Early Childhood. If you had joined the Response Network, you would have known about this yesterday and in most instances our alerts come a day earlier allowing you to call  your legislator to let him or her know how you feel about the bill. To JOIN the Response Network click here. To review our bill summary for HJR-1, click here.
  • Gov. Lujan Grisham has signed a comprehensive executive order committing the state to fully embracing the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, aligning New Mexico with the U.S. governors and states that have committed to a climate-conscious future and moves to protect people, natural resources and cultural heritage. The governor also ordered the creation of a New Mexico Climate Change Task Force, calling on all state agencies to contribute to a statewide climate strategy and incorporate climate mitigation and adaptation practices into their programs and operations. To read the complete Executive Order, click: 1 EXECUTIVE ORDER_003 (1).  To read about the best possible way to meet the goals of this order, read about SB 374 below. It is truly a game-changer for which we must fight.
  • Please share this post broadly, we will need to build a very strong GREEN WAVE to counter the gas and oil industry and the utilities that put profit over rate payers, our people and our planet.

Why SB 374 Is Game-Changing for Our NM Environment

Currently, PNM is the only source of electricity for the residents of Central and Northern New Mexico, producing 50% of our energy from coal, creating poisonous pollutants and carbon emissions that destroy our health and our climate. Thirty percent of our energy comes from nuclear; 10 % from gas; 8% from wind and only 2% from solar! New Mexico law prohibits companies or municipalities from competing against PNM to produce and sell electricity. This is because PNM is a protected monopoly based on a very old and obsolete New Mexico law. Because of this law, New Mexicans can only buy solar that is produced, owned, and sold by PNM or one of the other NM public utilities. And given the mix of energy that PNM provides us, it is clear that clean energy and a safe planet are not among their priorities. With SB 374, we can change that this year.

SB 374, the Local Clean Energy Act, was introduced on Monday by Senator Jeff Steinborn. With SB 374, jurisdictions would free themselves from the monopolies enjoyed by PNM and other NM utilities. With SB 374, a jurisdiction could put out a request for bids to supply their community with 100% renewable energy and choose the lowest bidder, or they could decide to produce the renewable energy themselves, as a municipality or Nation — to maximize the local economic benefit. Jurisdictions would still partner with PNM or their local utility, using their grid to distribute the energy for a negotiated fee approved by the Public Regulation Commission.

This legislation only requires the PRC to develop enabling rules and and a timetable for implementation. Another feature of SB 374 is that it would allow municipalities, and sovereign Native American tribes to create local wealth by producing and selling clean energy and using profits to support other community needs. The money will stay local instead of leaving the state to the benefit of Wall Street shareholders.

Retake Our Democracy will be strongly advocating for SB 374, but it will take a very, very heavy push from all of us. Expect to see all kinds of misleading information from PNM and other public utility monopolies. The mind boggles at what they will tell us and they have lobbyists and piles of money to purchase ads designed to misrepresent SB 374. So it will be up to us to push hard and spread the word.

Why Not Just Use Nuclear or Natural Gas?

PNM is likely to tell us that storage is too expensive, that nuclear or gas can be a safe energy source to serve as a transition to renewable energy or to supplement solar and wind when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. But there are serious problems with this thinking. And the source of PNM’s thinking is clear: they can make an enormous amount of money on energy generation that requires expensive plants (like gas and nuclear) to generate the energy. And PNM and other utilities are far more concerned with shareholder profit than your health and safety.

What’s Wrong with Gas.  Gas and oil industry representatives often speak of ‘natural’ gas as a clean energy source that can help make the transition to a 100% renewable energy portfolio. While it is true that natural gas emits 50% less carbon dioxide than coal, that hardly makes natural gas “clean.”

As reported in Forbes magazine: “The environmental effects of shale gas are varied. First, many say that the burning of natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases per unit of energy than burning alternative energy sources like oil or coal, however this may not necessarily be true when observing the full life cycle of natural gas especially taking extraction into account. Second, another key environmental impact is the amount of water needed to access shale gas through hydraulic fracking. Estimates vary, but one study from Duke University found that 250 billion gallons of water was used to extract unconventional shale gas and oil from hydraulically fractured wells in the United States between 2005 and 2014. During the same period, the fracked wells generated about 210 billion gallons of wastewater. Injecting such vast amounts of water into the earth can also cause minor earthquakes, but greater magnitude ones could occur if there is a pre-stressed fault in the same location.” Keep in mind, that fracking activity has increased enormously post 2014 especially after Trump got in office, so the billions of gallons of wastewater may now be trillions of gallons. So, natural gas is not a clean alternative by any means.

What’s Wrong with Nuclear. Others have suggested that nuclear energy could be the bridge to a just transition because it doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, methane or other contaminants. That sounds good until you have an accident. The devastating effects of Chernobyl disaster still linger in our minds, where the grave effects on humans can be seen even today. According to records, about 30, 000 people died in the Chernobyl disaster, and over 2.5 million Ukrainians are still dealing with the health tribulations associated with the nuclear waste.

Only a few years back, a huge nuclear crisis occurred in Japan on March 8. Although the casualty rate was significantly lower than the Chernobyl disaster, the environmental impacts were disastrous. People who work at nuclear power plants and live near those areas are at high risk of facing nuclear radiations, if it happens. According to these historical catastrophes it’s evident that we cannot insulate ourselves from these disasters. But that is not the only downside to nuclear energy generation.

The waste that comes from nuclear reactors needs to be disposed of or stored safely. The reason it has to be disposed of safely and appropriately is that it is able to emit radiations even after thousands of years. Check your calendar, thousands of years is a very long time. Nuclear energy advocates claim that handling and safe storage can happen as long as waste is cooled and workers insulated from the radiation it emits. But those advocates also minimized the risk of catastrophic meltdowns and storing the waste requires transporting it from the nuclear plant via rail to some remote location (hey, how about New Mexico?), and hoping that the concrete you’ve stored it in doesn’t disintegrate over time with the waste leaking into the aquifer. We already have chromium plumes threatening our water thanks to Los Alamos.

Energy Storage to Unleash Solar. So that leaves us with wind and solar. The sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow 24-7, so some supplementary energy source is needed. This is where storage comes into play. The cost of energy storage is falling quickly just as the efficiency of energy storage is increasing dramatically.  Solar energy storage is also valued for its rapid response – most storage technologies can begin discharging power to the grid very quickly, while fossil fuel sources tend to take longer to ramp up. This rapid response is important for ensuring stability of the grid when unexpected increases in demand occur. With advances in storage it is possible to store energy for periods when the wind and sun are not producing energy. From a New Energy Outlook report: “The arrival of cheap battery storage will mean that it becomes increasingly possible to finesse the delivery of electricity from wind and solar, so that these technologies can help meet demand even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining,” commented Seb Henbest, Head of Europe, Middle East, and Africa at BNEF, and lead author of the New Energy Outlook report. “The result will be renewables eating up more and more of the existing market for coal, gas and nuclear.”

With SB 374 New Mexico could also build large solar arrays and sell that energy to other states, especially those to the east. Peak use times in eastern states correspond with times when NM can still be producing solar and so there is a great market for distributing our solar to other eastern states or to states with far less capacity for generating renewable energy. New Mexico is ranked 2nd in the nation for solar energy potential and 9th for wind generation, so the potential for producing and distributing renewable energy as a source of state revenue and jobs while also contributing to the increased use of renewable energy in other states.. What’s more the Four Corners is adjacent to interstate grids that deliver energy throughout the nation. So, SB 374 would allow communities in Four Corners to generate solar and distribute it to other states. while in southeast NM, wind energy could be produced in the same way.

In short, SB 374 is game-changing. And given it’s being game-changing PNM and other utilities will not want the game changed. There is too much money to be made.

Let’s do this.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

17 thoughts on “SB 374: Transformational Legislation to Make NM a Leader in Renewable Energy

  1. “The cost and efficiency of energy storage is increasing dramatically.”

    Don’t you mean the cost is decreasing?

    Could I suggest that before you get too enthusiastic about exporting our excess renewable energy that:

    1. we are nowhere near having an excess of renewable energy to export
    2. that we consider the lessons learned in California before we commit to the required high voltage transmission lines.
    https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-westwick-fires-california-history-electricity-20190128-story.html

    • Thanks, Devin. My typo on storage costs increasing. I fixed it. I’ll look at the California study, too.

  2. When you say, “The cost and efficiency of energy storage is increasing dramatically” what do you mean?

  3. “The cost of energy storage is falling quickly just as the efficiency of energy storage is increasing dramatically.” Please say more about this! I’ve been interested in the energy storage question for years and apparently I am not up to date. What are these new, lower cost and higher efficiency technologies?

  4. Nuclear power need not be uranium based – this country went to uranium so that it could get bomb materials as a by-product. That pushed an alternative means of nuclear power into the deep background: a thorium based power source. And rather than using water liquid fluoride can be used as a cooling agent. Such systems have many advantages over water cooled uranium reactors – including size. The latest versions of liquid flouride thorium reactors (LFTR) can be so small that a municipality can (safely) have its own. Check it out: the Wikipedia article is a good place to start.
    Merrill Ring

    • Thanks, Merrill. So many things I should check out and so little time ;-). I’ll have one of my staff looking into it. Oh yeah, no staff.

  5. About energy storage: would it be feasible to use solar energy to move water uphill (either by solar-electric pumping, or by evaporation) and then during the night let falling water generate electricity?

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  7. If you enable local choice, does anyone at the state level really know how they want the financing to work… every GW costs about $1.5B to design, build, qualify and operate… even with the ITC, depreciation, etc… NM needs 10’s of GWs! Maybe no place in NM has that kind of money, short of the SIC???? State-wide IPO? PERA? The goals you envision are worthy and needed for RE to become a “local” option. Nonetheless, if we aren’t very careful this could end up kinda like the oil/gas work in NM, big out of state companies extract the resources of NM and the big $$$ flow out of NM like a river. We will need capital $$$ for NM and equity ownership in NM for this to work as proposed and have a chance for NM to reach #40 in per capita income.

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