It’s simple: climate change.
After Pearl Harbor, our country instantly mobilized to combat an epic threat. Factories were retooled, resources redirected, university research refocused and our entire population redeployed. A similar moment is upon us, and no less of an effort is required. Unless we act quickly and decisively to stop burning fossil fuels, the world as we know it will no longer exist. Our weather is not just extreme, it’s freakish — 116 degrees in Portland, Ore.; frozen landscapes in Texas; historic megadroughts; deadly storms, floods and wildfires ravaging our world. It will get worse — much worse.
The hearing examiner in the PNM-Avangrid merger case recently ruled there is no longer anything to debate: If we don’t act fast to address climate change, “the adverse consequences for public health, welfare, and safety; the economy and the environment; and for all living things, is likely to be severe, widespread, and irreversible.”
Which brings me to the support by Western Resource Advocates for the merger. Avangrid is the world’s largest developer of renewable energy. It’s committed to combating climate change. The terms we have negotiated with Avangrid show that commitment. Unlike other utilities I’ve dealt with over the years, Avangrid fully embraced what we asked them to do on climate change and understood the importance of it.
If the merger is approved, Avangrid will work to decarbonize PNM’s electricity supply fully by 2035 — 10 years sooner than state law requires. PNM will have a full-time environmental officer with a strong climate background and direct access to the company president and board. PNM executive compensation will include incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and PNM will seek to join a regional transmission group so clean energy can be produced and distributed efficiently and reliably.
The merger benefits don’t stop with reducing PNM’s emissions, though. Avangrid has also pledged $50 million in rate reductions, $6 million to forgive customer debt incurred during COVID-19, $7.5 million for economic development, $15 million in energy efficiency programs for low-income customers, $12.5 million to Indigenous communities impacted by coal-plant closures and $2 million to bring electricity to households that lack service. Unlike typical merger proposals, where cost savings are achieved through workforce reduction, Avangrid not only will preserve all PNM jobs for at least three years but will bring 150 new jobs to New Mexico.
Opponents believe if the merger is denied, public power (i.e. owned by local government) and customer-sourced renewables will step up to rescue us from climate disaster. That is naive at best, and ignores history and the scope and urgency of our climate challenge. The failed pursuit of public power by Albuquerque and Las Cruces in the 1990s only resulted in years of litigation and millions wasted on legal fees. Any renewed effort will no doubt meet the same fate. And public power does not necessarily mean clean power. Many municipal utilities happily rely on fossil fuels.
Nor can rooftop and community solar, while certainly helpful, provide nearly the scale of transformation we need in the little time we have. Avangrid, on the other hand, stands ready and willing to deploy its multibillion-dollar, multinational resources to help us fight the most important and difficult challenge of our time. Nothing less will suffice to overcome the unfolding climate crisis.
Simply put, rejecting the merger will not result in the utopian fantasy that merger critics seek. Rather, it will mean continuing with a weakened PNM, higher electric rates, more pollution, no benefits for communities or our economy, and no strong ally to combat climate change. Hopefully, we can avoid all that and embark on the important climate work ahead of us with PNM-Avangrid as a partner.