Many a thoughtful voter, and I am one, has been struggling with Constitutional Amendment 1 on the ballot.
That one would change the makeup of the Public Regulation Commission from five elected members representing five statewide regions to three people appointed by the governor. Who can be against popularly elected representation and doesn’t fear certain administrations?
Two big events this past week changed my mind. Constitutional Amendment 1 needs to pass, thus allowing a switch to appointees — if we have any hope of reaching the goals of the Energy Transition Act that mandates New Mexico will have carbon-free electricity by 2045.
The first two-by-four upside my head was reading a draft white paper titled “The Energy Transition in New Mexico: Insights from a Santa Fe Institute Workshop.” It was co-authored by resident institute scientist and former City Councilor Cris Moore.
At 45 pages, its scope was breathtaking — a wide, deep and hopeful look into the future based on what’s possible and what can be accomplished if all the pieces fall into place.
The Santa Fe Institute is a low-key treasure of local intellect unlike any other in that its members can research and write anywhere but choose our spot in the world to live their daily lives. But when it asks national and international colleagues to a workshop, nobody says no.
The workshop was held over three days at the end of February, the last in-person gathering before the world shut down. Besides the out-of-town scientists and thinkers, it included an equal number of local and statewide experts and thinkers. Their task? How does New Mexico get there from here?
They spent no time on the costs of solar or wind; it was a given they get cheaper. Instead, they focused on what now is necessary. Specifically, energy storage, flexible demand, space and water heating, transportation and regional coordination.
Another underlying assumption is that it doesn’t stop with 100 percent renewable electricity from the Public Service Company of New Mexico by 2040, which it has pledged to do, but that our demand for that electricity will grow significantly by 2040 as we electrify heating, hot water and transportation in our homes and businesses.
That is how we get to near-total decarbonization.
The hopeful, and supportable, part of the road map is jobs and our statewide economy post-COVID-19 and beyond. Flexible demand infrastructure, for instance, starts with supercomputers and the brains to program them. We have Los Alamos and Sandia labs.
Solarizing our homes and businesses; microgrids for new subdivisions controlled with artificial intelligence algorithms; replacing gas-fired furnaces and water heaters with electric ones tied to rooftop solar panels; electric vehicle charging ports tied to the same panels … all those things lead to a jobs future and a path to carbon neutrality.
The biggest challenges will be regulatory. And not just in our state. Regional interstate regulatory hurdles speak to a level of integration and cooperation that we are far from realizing any time soon.
Builders work off plans and schedules toward a completion. The white paper lays out the plan but not the schedules that create the scaffolding for what needs to happen.
That’s why the PRC needs appointees committed to executing a plan the Energy Transition Act requires. The current governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, will do the right thing. The past governor, Susana Martinez, appointed Doug Howe to the PRC — perhaps its most expert and thoughtful member ever. If we are committed to the transition, it’s the only way to get there.
The second two-by-four upside the head? That was Avangrid buying PNM. Wow. That sealed the decision for me.