In 2019, New Mexico became a clean-energy leader with the passage of its landmark legislation on the transition to renewable energy. Our state leaders set some of the most ambitious renewable energy targets in the nation. This investment goal not only follows the recommendations of climate science, but also safeguards the health and economic well-being of New Mexicans.
As the price of renewables has dropped, market-growth projections continue to accelerate at lightning speed. We now have superior alternative technologies and a timely economic opportunity.
Public Service Company of New Mexico, recognizing the costliness of the San Juan coal plant, has plans to retire it in 2022. The question becomes: “How will we replace the economic benefits San Juan provided? Where will the electricity it produced be sourced when the plant closes?” After a year of Public Regulation Commission hearings, expert testimony and analysis, PRC examiners recommended a replacement plan that elegantly answers those questions.
According to examiners, the most beneficial option is solar energy and battery storage powered by projects in San Juan, Rio Arriba and McKinley counties. This 100-percent clean plan, according to a University of New Mexico economic analysis, would invest more than $1 billion into our three counties and create approximately 3,545 direct and indirect jobs. Importantly, these solar projects will completely replace the lost tax base from the San Juan plant for school districts and the communities surrounding the existing coal plant.
For Rio Arriba, the plan includes a solar/storage project on Jicarilla Apache tribal land, providing hundreds of construction jobs and millions in wages and tax income, as well as capital investment. It represents a turning point for the county, bringing much-needed revenues and jobs at a time of utmost need. With the fallout from COVID-19 and the precarious loss of oil and gas revenues, our county is facing epic shortfalls and an extraordinary labor market contraction.
Impressively, our Jicarilla solar project would be one of the lowest-cost solar projects in the nation. This proposed replacement plan would also save PNM’s electric customers more than $6 a month. For New Mexicans, our clean-energy future is here, and Rio Arriba is poised to be a front-runner and key beneficiary.
Nevertheless, the PRC has received requests to drop all these projects and request a new round of proposals. This would primarily enable the company that wants to convert San Juan to a carbon-capture coal plant to compete. Any delay would rob our communities of $1 billion in investment and jobs just when they are most needed to support recovery from the devastating effects of this pandemic.
Fortunately, our projects and the 100-percent solar-and-storage replacement plan can be approved without hindering the carbon-capture proposal. PRC hearing examiners advised commissioners that the carbon-capture effort does not need to sell its power to PNM to be profitable.
Our Northern New Mexico commissioner, Valerie Espinoza, has capably represented this district for eight years. As her final term comes to a close, we ask her to support this transformational investment in renewables. This solar transition will assure our children’s futures and provide a major economic boost. Solar power is one of the best strategies to assist our communities’ recovery from the pandemic and build a resilient, future-focused economy.