Southeast New Mexico lawmakers clash with 'radical' green energy agenda as bills proceed

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus
  • Bill would call for carbon-free energy in New Mexico by 2024.
  • It passed the New Mexico Senate and will move on to the House.\
  • Lawmakers from Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs attacked the bill as part of a "radical agenda."

As it passed the New Mexico Senate, the Energy Transition Act (ETA) drew anxiety from southeast New Mexico senators who failed to stop its progress, and the representatives who vowed to vote against it.

Senate Bill 489 passed on the Senate Floor Wednesday night on 32-9 vote. It now goes before a House committee ahead of a vote and potential signing by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The bill would provide incentives and worker displacement funding to support the closure of San Juan Generating Station – a coal plant near Farmington – by 2022 and provide additional funds to assist the county’s shift to renewable energy.

More:Could New Mexico be carbon-free by 2045?

It would also set milestone requirements for the rest of the state to convert to carbon-free electricity.

By 2030, if the bill is passed, half of the state’s energy would be required to be carbon-free, and 100 percent by 2045.

The bill would also establish a goal of 80 percent carbon-free energy by 2040.

"The Energy Transition Act is the work product of many, many months and many important stakeholders,” Grisham said. “The result is a groundbreaking push toward the clean energy future New Mexico should and indeed must have. We can be a global leader.

"With this legislation, our priorities are planted front and center, and, crucially, we do not leave our neighbors in San Juan County behind.”

State House Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54)

House Minority Leader Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54) of Artesia, said the bill shows favoritism to the renewable energy industry, and discredits “American ingenuity” in devising market-based solutions rather than government mandates.

“My plan is to support an economical, dispatchable power supply for New Mexico going forward,” Townsend said. “I don’t think it is the Legislature’s prerogative to say what that should be. There should be a level playing field, so that American ingenuity and entrepreneurship will prevail.”

More:Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: 'Fear-mongering' in 2nd Amendment sanctuary counties

Townsend pointed to the development of hydraulic fracturing, a technological advancement credited with leading New Mexico’s recent oil and gas boom.

Hydraulic fracturing was created by the industry, Townsend said, because it could innovate without undue regulatory restrictions.

“We should use that kind of ingenuity where people can go out and figure out a better way of doing things,” he said. “The technological improvements in oil and gas have just begun. I don’t think that should be discounted.

“I probably will vote against it, but I will listen to it and see what’s best for New Mexicans.”

More:Could New Mexico go solar? Bill provides tax relief for those giving it a shot

Radical agenda?

Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-55) of Carlsbad said the ETA was part of a dangerous political agenda of New Mexico Democrats and Grisham, which she said could have a devastating impact on New Mexico’s energy industry.

Brown said the Democrats pushing such an agenda call themselves “progressives,” but Brown said she’s taken to calling them “aggressives.”

“I think it’s grossly unrealistic,” Brown said of the ETA. “It’s politically motivated. It would be harmful to a lot of existing industries, especially oil and gas. It would put a lot of people out of work.”

The ETA is just one piece of legislation proposed by Democrats and the State’s Executive Branch that could devastate southeast New Mexico’s economy and the extractive industries it relies on, Brown said.

More:Social media posts propagate New Mexico State Land Office's green energy agenda

State Rep. Cathrynn Brown

One Democrat-sponsored senate bill would call for a four-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, and another bill would raise royalty rates on vented or flared natural gas.

Others would offer tax incentives for homeowners or businesses to install renewable energy infrastructure such as solar power cells and wind turbines.

Senate Bill 518, offering residents and business a 10 percent tax credit on construction of solar energy facilities passed the Senate Friday. 

“Making solar energy more affordable for New Mexicans makes sense,” said State Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-17) of Albuquerque. “Families, farmers and small-business owners want to invest in clean, renewable energy. This straightforward tax credit will help them do that.”

But such efforts by the Democrats comprise what Brown called a “radical environmental agenda.”

She said one third of the land in the U.S. would need to be used for wind turbines to create the revenue generated by oil and gas.

More:Road bill update: Southeast NM lawmakers see most proposals tabled

“It’s a very radical wing of the Democrat party,” Brown said. “They’re all about getting control of our everyday lives.”

And State Sen. Gay Kernan (R-42) of Hobbs said there might not be much hope in blocking the ETA and other bills like it, as it progresses through the House.

She voted against the ETA but was pessimistic about House Republicans’ ability to keep the bill off Grisham’s desk.

“That thing is probably going to pass,” Kernan said. “It’s very concerning to me. It’s a governor initiative, it’s a bad bill and it has a chance to pass. I don’t think they (House Republicans) can stop it.”

Kernan said she opposed the complete shift to carbon-free energy for two main reasons: the affordability and reliability of renewables.

More:Wind farms coming to southeast NM, Texas; Xcel supports governor's green energy agenda

She said New Mexico must continue to embrace fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas for its energy and should use renewables only “when appropriate” to fill in the gaps when traditional forms of energy trend downward.

Otherwise, Kernan worried the cost of energy could grow.

Gay Kernan

That wouldn’t only impact residents and local businesses, she said, but would also drive up costs for the oil and gas industry – one of New Mexico’s biggest users of electricity – which provided about a third of the State’s budget last year.

“When those (fossil fuels) are taken out and we aren’t able to use energy that is secured from them, the cost of energy will rise,” she said. “When renewables go up, the cost will impact us overtime.”

Even worse, Kernan said renewable energy technology is not proven to be sustainable. There isn’t enough proof that solar energy can be adequately stored, she said, or that wind energy provides enough return on investment.

More:Report: Fracking ban could cost New Mexico billions, cut oil and gas production

“They’re betting on a technology that isn’t proven,” she said. “It’s just not going to be reliable enough to operate. It’s just crazy. I’m not opposed to using renewables when appropriate, but we’re reaching way out into the future and relying on a technology that just isn’t proven.”

She worried that the environmentalist proposals in the Legislature were gaining momentum, and many similarly dangerous bills could be passed into law.

“We can’t seem to stop this movement,” Kernan said. “Hopefully, eventually reality will set in.”

More news from Santa Fe:

NMED: Environment must be guarded during oil boom in Carlsbad area

Bat brigade: Staffing problems plague State regulators in oil boom

NMDOT: US 285 is top priority, but funding is a problem

What were Carlsbad's business leaders promised during their recent trip to Santa Fe?

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.