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New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and Environmental Justice

Renewable energy projects such as the biomass plant to be built near Vado in Southern Dona Ana County are approved in a regulatory process that resulted from passage of a New Mexico Law called the Renewable Energy Standard. A six year campaign by the Coalition For Clean and Affordable Energy and other clean energy advocates culminated in passage of the law, also known as Renewable Portfolio Standards. It is the leading mechanism for promoting clean energy in the 22 States that have passed the law. The regulatory process takes place at the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC). Public utilities file a Renewable Energy Procurement Plan in which projects are proposed. The PRC reviews the projects and votes on approval. The 2007 State Legislature passed amendments to the law and on May 11, the PRC opened a case that will update the Renewable Energy Standard Rules called a “Notice Of Inquiry Docket No. 07-00157-UT”. Clean energy advocates will be working with the PRC to strengthen review of projects to include impacts on the environment and local communities. Ultimately the PRC Commissioners will vote on changes to the rules.

The Vado biomass plant will collect cow manure from 15 dairies and generate electricity which it will sell to El Paso Electric Company (EPE). “The contract is signed and the project is on schedule” according to an EPE attorney and Lila Garza of Southwest Bioenergy LLC which will build the plant. Three environmental issues associated with this biomass plant are: 1. Improving local waste disposal practices 2. Clean energy production reducing greenhouse gas emissions and 3. Environmental justice. Environmental Justice issues concern lack of government regulation which have resulted in environmental hazards and risks. Southern Dona Ana County is no stranger to environmental justice issues. State Representative Joseph Cervantes has stated that his South Dona Ana County District is the State’s top environmental justice site. Close review by the Public Regulation Commission of projects such as the Vado plant can help to secure pubic approval and ensure that they fulfill their clean energy potential.

Pictured below are Ben Luce, Director of the New Mexico Coalition For Clean and Affordable Energy and Brigitte Hines of the Southwest Energy Alliance discussing the biomass plant to be built in Vado, south of Las Cruces. Brigitte Hines was an organizer of the Environmental Justice Symposium at NMSU which included a bus tour of Southern Dona Ana County. Ben Luce appears frequently before the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) as an advocate for clean energy. Luce is urging the PRC to closely examine the effects of renewable energy plants on the environment and the surrounding community.