The 2017 Renewable Portfolio Standard
The 2017 legislative session saw the introduction of one of the most ambitious clean energy proposals that the state of New Mexico has ever seen. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a requirement that for profit, investor owned utilities (IOUs) like PNM, as well as rural distribution co-ops, provide a certain percentage of electricity to consumers from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. Currently, the state is on track to require IOUs to deliver 20% of energy to customers from renewable sources by the year 2020.
CVNM staff, along with staff from Environment New Mexico and 350.org worked with Senator Mimi Stewart to draft a bill that would increase the RPS to 80% by the year 2040. This increase would result in a steady increase in the amount of solar energy produced in the state, and a corresponding increase in the jobs that the renewable energy industry in the state supports. In the solar industry alone, New Mexico added over 1,000 jobs just in the 2016. The Union of Concerned Scientists modeling indicates that increasing the RPS this way can result in as much as $6 billion dollars in private capital investment in the state. As the costs of renewable energy continue to plummet, passing an RPS bill is a proven method of ensuring that power bills get smaller over time, and also that the price of electricity remains more consistent.
The bill was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Conservation committee and the Senate Corporations committee. SB 312 had its first committee hearing in the Senate Conservation committee on February 28th. Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes scheduled the bill promptly after referral and, with overwhelming support in the room it passed on a 6-3 party line vote.
From Senate Conservation, SB 312 moved to the Senate Corporations Committee chaired by Senator Clemente Sanchez. Unlike Senate Conservation, advocates needed to press the Chair to schedule the bill at all in order for it to continue moving. The bill was eventually scheduled for action in the Corporations committee and once again the committee convened in front of room packed full of advocates there in support. As the bill was presented and Senator Stewart opened the floor for questions, it slowly became clear that one Senator in particular was struggling to understand the basics of the bill and even the science behind it: Clemente Sanchez. His comments on the importance of renewable energy to address climate change? “It will all turn again and we’ll start getting the rains in the regular cycles like we always do.” A sitting state senator in charge of a committee seemed to lack a basic understanding of the effects that climate change is having on the planet, and on our state.
The fight to pass a nation leading RPS is just beginning. This is a bill that is too good of a fit for New Mexico not to become law. It will take changes of heart for legislators like Senator Sanchez, and a change in the Governor’s mansion. With the help of CVNM members, we’re confident that we’ll be able to make both happen.