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What Is Keeping Southern New Mexico From Leading The State In Renewable Energy?

State governments are taking the lead promoting clean energy in the United States. Twenty two states have passed Renewable Energy Standards mandating clean energy generation and sales. Implementing these laws is a complex legal process that takes place in state public utility commissions. In New Mexico utility companies submit their plans for purchasing renewable energy to the New Mexico Pubic Regulation Commission (PRC) for approval. The five elected commissioners make decisions based on information from PRC staff, utility attorneys and interveners represented by attorneys. Southern New Mexico interveners include the City of Las Cruces, New Mexico State University and the Department of Defense. The “testimony” is contained in legal briefs and is subject to cross examination. Access by the pubic is limited, public written comment has been ruled inadmissible and PRC hearing transcripts are confidential. The Commissioners act as judges when they issue decisions in hearing cases, legislators when they make rules and regulations and executives when they issue resolutions. Only the Governor has a salary higher than a Pubic Regulation Commissioner. Lets look at what this process is achieving in Southern New Mexico when it comes to generating clean, local renewable energy.

No New Renewable Energy in Southern New Mexico until 2008: Three years after passage of New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) in 2004, El Paso Electric’s Renewable Energy Procurement Plan for 2007 indicates the utility will meet the mandate by purchasing wind energy credits from Pubic Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) which buys the wind energy from Florida Power and Light resulting in no new renewable energy in Southern New Mexico and adding no diversity to EPE energy sources. According to the EPE web site, the utility will start buying electricity from a soon to be constructed biomass plant in Dona Ana County in 2008, four years after passage of the RES law. In addition, the utility will meet its 2008 mandate by purchasing electricity from a photovoltaic installation at the South West Environmental Center (SWEC) in Las Cruces.

You can count the number of homes with grid connected solar electric systems in Las Cruces on one hand. The intent of the RES is to encourage investment in renewable energy by helping investors and homeowners pay down their investment. The installation at SWEC was paid for by a Legislative Capital Outlay and is being installed by the Institute for Energy and the Environment at NMSU. No home owner or business investment was required, so none was encouraged or paid down. Payments for the electricity generated will be income to the non profit organization. In the 2007 Session, the New Mexico State Legislature strengthened the State’s Renewable Energy Standard to require 20% renewable energy by 2020. The New Mexico PRC has initiated a proceeding to update the rules for implementing clean energy.

John Wiles of the Southwest Technology Development Institute at NMSU who writes a regular column for Home Power Magazine described two successful national solar programs-Germany and Japan and explained why the U.S. has failed to promote solar energy. Germany is the world leader in solar energy. Germany passed a national “feed in tariff”, a generous payment to anyone who generates solar electricity. In Germany a homeowner, small town, business owner, farmer or corporation can make an 8% tax free return on solar investment. Consequently, Germany has a thriving solar industry employing Germans in sales, installation and manufacturing. Japan on the other hand chose an educational approach to changing the public mindset. Wiles was in Japan and witnessed the government’s successful campaign to promote solar energy in movies, TV shows, on bus placards and taxi top ad carriers. The nation wide education campaign program was so successful that the 30% rebate program was phased out. What has prevented the U.S. and Southern New Mexico from leading the world in renewable energy? John Wiles suggested: OIL BASED POLITICS.