On Thursday, 33 organizations asked the state’s Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to create a new "clean energy standard" to reduce carbon emissions in New Mexico.
The groups include the American Lung Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and a number of environmental organizations.
Under the standard, utilities could choose to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by three percent each year.
Most of the electricity generated in New Mexico comes from coal-fired power plants, which release carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.
(To learn more about electricity generation and use in New Mexico, visit the US Energy Information Administration’s website.)
Activists point out that reducing coal use would also benefit air and water quality and address high asthma rates among New Mexico’s youth.
They say the standard would also motivate utilities to invest in renewable energy instead of coal, which is becoming a riskier investment. “We have been seeing 40 percent rate increases with coal,” says Mariel Nanasi with New Energy Economy, “so coal is no longer cheap.”
But the “devil is in the details,” says Valerie Smith, with PNM, the state’s largest electric utility. The utility will participate in the stakeholder process, she says, but adds: “I think it’s too early to really have any idea how it will impact the company or ratepayers.”
PRC Commissioner Jason Marks also think it’s early to be weighing in on the proposed standard. “I think the $64,000 question is whether utilities will choose to be part of a voluntary, New Mexico-only clean energy standard.”
But carbon dioxide emissions do need to be addressed, he says, and he predicts the federal government will enforce national standards within the next decade.
“What we’re seeing in terms of weather the past few years, it’s scary, because it’s showing climate change that’s even more severe than the models were predicting,” says Marks. “The facts on the ground, and the risks that we’re taking on by not dealing with this problem, are going to build over the next few years. I’m not just hopeful, but I’m fairly sure that at some point, rationality will prevail and we’ll deal with it nationally.”
Before deciding on any rule changes, the PRC will hold public hearings on the issue.