Local senator warns of unintended consequences

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FARMINGTON — Over the past decade, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power have seen steady growth. But that trend was questioned Friday by some Republican state lawmakers.

Michael McDiarmid, a consulting energy engineer who has worked with the New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department, told the state Legislature's Water and Natural Resources Interim Committee during its meeting Friday at the San Juan College School of Energy that roughly half the growth in renewable energy nationwide since 2000 can be attributed to legislative actions such as the adoption of renewable portfolio standards.

The renewable portfolio standard is a state policy that ensures that a certain percentage of energy used in the state is renewable, Sarah Cottrell Propst, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on expanding renewable energy, explained.

New Mexico has a goal of seeing 20 percent of its energy produced by renewable sources by 2020. It is one of 29 states with a renewable portfolio standard.

Legislators debated Friday whether New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard should be increased or if it is not necessary now that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are becoming more affordable.

“Why does the government need to force renewables if (wind and solar are) cost effective?” Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, asked.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, warned that there could be unintended consequences if utilities are required to produce a certain amount of renewable energy. For example, Sharer said wind and solar power require more land than coal and natural gas to produce the same amount of energy.

Several legislators wondered if the state was getting in the way of free market forces by implementing renewable portfolio standards.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, argued that the state has given utilities the authority to essentially act as a monopoly in providing power to customers within certain areas.

“It’s not a free market,” Ortiz y Pino said.

He said it makes sense to him that the state should be able to dictate renewable energy standards since it has given the utilities the ability to make a profit in an area without competition.

Pat O’Connell, director of planning and resources for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, spoke in support of the renewable energy portfolio standards. He said PNM will meet the 20 percent goal by 2020. He urged the Legislature to look at including energy storage and transmission in any revision to the renewable portfolio standards.

“The energy industry is at a tipping point from fossil fuels to more renewable forms of energy,” he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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