The New Mexico Legislature will consider increasing by more than four-fold the amount of renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar that utilities would have to provide their customers by the year 2040.
Two Democratic lawmakers announced bills Wednesday that would gradually increase the share of renewable energy to 80 percent of power supplies by 2040, under the state’s investor-owned utilities.
New Mexico’s current renewable energy portfolio is set to reach 20 percent of supplies by 2020. Electrical cooperatives would ramp up to a slightly lower threshold of 70 percent by 2040, under the proposed legislation, while municipal utilities continue to be exempt.
The initiative calls for one of the more aggressive transitions toward renewable energy in the country. It would place New Mexico on a similar trajectory to California and New York, which are planning for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Hawaii aims to shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
The proposed legislation from Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces has the support of a broad coalition of environmental and civic groups.
Sanders Moore, director of Environment New Mexico, said the bill sends a message at the outset of the Donald Trump administration that “New Mexico is determined to keep moving forward on clean energy.”
Public Service Co. of New Mexico, which serves more than 500,000 customers, says it is on track to meet the current targets for 2020. A spokesman for the company declined to comment on the new renewable energy proposal until the company can thoroughly analyze the bills.
New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Chairman Sandy Jones, the state’s top utility regulator, said large amounts of solar and wind energy that fluctuate with weather and by the hour still pose a challenge to providing steady power supplies.
“That amount of renewable energy would be difficult to put on the system any time soon,” he said of the 80 percent renewables target.
Annual targets could be waived by the commission temporarily if costs exceed acceptable thresholds.
“We actually think the opposite, that this will keep the cost of electricity down in the long term,” Moore said.
Stewart said it makes sense for New Mexico to take better advantage of its intense high-desert sunlight and wind resources to produce electricity, with increasing indications that climate change is affecting the Mountain West.
“We either pay attention to it or we lose our plants and wildlife and habitable living environment, at our peril,” she said.
Renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to sell a specific percentage or amount of renewable electricity have been adopted in 29 states, helping drive the nation’s multi-billion dollar market for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.
Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said Wednesday that she had not yet read the bills but supports efforts to make New Mexico fully energy independent using all possible resources.
“We almost can beat anybody in the country with our energy costs because of the variety of the energy that we have in New Mexico,” said Martinez, who spent part of her morning celebrating private investments in solar facilities to power a Facebook data center under construction in central New Mexico. “But we have to have a sense of ‘all of the above,’ wherever it works best.”
Under Republican leadership in 2015, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved a reduction in the 2020 requirement that never made it past the Democrat-led Senate. Democrats retook majority control of the House in November.
Coal-fired power plants currently supply more than three-fifths of New Mexico’s electricity. Electricity sources are shifting as Public Service Co. of New Mexico shutters two coal-fired generators later this year at one of the region’s largest power plants in the northwest of the state.
Associated Press writer Susana Montoya Bryan contributed to this report from Albuquerque.
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