Can we dream of a human organization that effectively harvests, produces, transports, and uses low-carbon sources of energy?
New Mexico has three regional “governors” of energy: Western Area Power Administration governs hydropower from the Colorado; the Western Electric Coordinating Council governs the Western grid; and the Southwest Power Pool governs the Eastern grid.
Our vision for New Mexico looks like this: The three investor-owned utilities, 20 cooperatives and municipal, tribal and military utilities provide renewable energy at reasonable prices with organizational transparency and customer/shareholder
The Power Players
Who owns and governs New Mexico’s energy resources?
El Paso Electric, Public Service Resources’ subsidiary Public Service of NM (PNM ), and Xcel’s Southwest Public Service serve about 70 percent of the electricity in-state customers.
Twenty rural electric cooperatives cover about 85 percent of New Mexico’s land area, and serve about 22 percent of customers. Tri-State Co-op and Transmission Association supplies wholesale electricity to 13 co-ops; Xcel supplies four.
The remaining eight percent comes through municipal, tribal and military utilities, mostly hydropower from the Colorado River “wheeled” by the Western Area Power Administration.
The State legislature makes laws. The governor can hand down executive orders. The Renewable Energy Transmission Authority can organize the grid and float bonds to pay for them. The Public Regulation Commission can pass rulings and review protests concerning rates and other aspects of energy development and services. The Environmental Improvement Board can look at impacts of the energy business. The State Lands Commission leases for energy development. Other agencies work with health, water, poverty and other issues that interact with energy policies.
Counties have a strong influence on building codes, planning and zoning that can encourage efficiency, smart growth, transit-oriented development, agricultural and open space land, and distributed energy.
New Mexico belongs to three regional “governors” of electricity. The Western Area Power Administration governs who gets what in New Mexico from hydropower on the Colorado. The Western Electric Coordinating Council governs the reliability, power flows and renewable credits of the Western regional grid, as does the Southwest Power Pool for eastern New Mexico. The North American Reliability Corporation oversees WECC.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can determine where inter-state transmission lines must go as well as what it considers fair utilities pricing. Congress, through its laws (e.g., Energy Policy Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act) governs how and what gets built. Land use agencies can encourage or discourage biomass, wind and solar development. The Securities and Exchange Commission oversees financial integrity of public companies.
Other National and Global
The Chicago Carbon Exchange coordinates carbon credits nationally. The Kyoto Agreement influences the actions of all levels of government.
To see rules, regulations and policies that create incentives for renewables and energy efficient building, interconnection, green power options, net metering, renewable portfolio standard, solar access law, alternative fuel and vehicle policies and more, visit www.dsireusa.org and enter New Mexico.
Renewables Education in New Mexico
To transform the energy commons, New Mexico needs a new workforce. The “green collar” jobs include new skills for: constructing, fixing and operating solar and wind generators; building and retrofitting energy-efficient houses; monitoring greenhouse gases; running co-generation plants; and installing new kinds of distribution lines and meters.
Already, Advent, Schott and Emcore have centered their solar energy production in Albuquerque, and Tesla operates a factory to manufacture all-electric cars.
The only school in the nation to train technicians in wind power is at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari. San Juan Community College (Farmington) has a solar PV technician program. Northern New Mexico College in Española is creating a new BA and MA curriculum for mechanical engineering, focused on solar and storage technologies.
Education, governance and political will are almost identical words for an Age of Renewables.
In this modern urban world, energy services call for special forms of governance because delivered energy is crucial to our survival for cooling, heating, refrigeration, cooking and travel. Because energy is crucial to survival we cannot allow prices to spike and collapse, electricity delivery to become unreliable, too harmful to our health or the environment, or overly costly. An essential task of governance is deciding on the working rules for each step of the energy system, from source to use to disposal. New Mexico’s energy system has five major “common resources” that all citizens share, whether they like it or not. The common “energy pools” include:
- the atmosphere of the planet;
- the global financial system;
- the technical components of the energy system such as the grid;
- the land and waters within the state; and
- our commitment to democratic decision-making and honorable ethics.
At its best, governance helps increase efficiency, lower prices, reduce unintentional harms, shows compassion for the most vulnerable, and prevents crises. In the dream, New Mexicans organize themselves to provide energy (heating and cooling, electricity and transportation fuels) at all stages of the economy (harvest, processing, transport, use, and waste handling) that does no harm to themselves and the environment; and to sell energy services at a fair price and profit.
In addition, all affected citizens have a place at the decision-making table — a right to know and an ability to bargain and engage on all aspects of the new energy economy.
The Atmospheric Commons
New Mexico asks: What is our fair share? Given other states and nations, how many tons of greenhouse gases, can we emit into, remove and prevent from entering the biosphere? Is it a fair share compared to New Mexico and Arizona, Nevada, California and Utah? Should we measure emissions by the amount consumed? or the amount produced but consumed in another state?
New Mexico has joined the Western Governors Alliance to figure out equitable accounting. The state government has joined the Chicago Carbon Exchange to find market mechanisms to calibrate responsibilities.
DREAM: Each state and nation accepts its fair share in the task of reducing greenhouse gases. The investor-owned utilities, public utilities, cooperatives, tribal authorities, federal agencies and military in New Mexico collaborate to actively pursue the reduction of greenhouse gases.
The Fuel/Land/Water Commons
All energy development makes a footprint on the land and waters of New Mexico. Governance includes a dialog between property owners and energy providers. Who makes the working rules that limit or extend the footprint? Almost all energy enterprises impact both private and public lands and water—wind farms, rights-of-way for power lines, cooling waters for coal or solar thermal.
The federal government owns about one-third of all New Mexico, including many places with both “old” and “new” resources (especially geothermal and wind). These lands are owned “in common” by all US citizens. The state government owns 12% of the land, also with many old and new resources. Native American tribes own a little less than 10% of New Mexico and have major uranium and coal deposits as well as solar and wind potential. Private land covers about 44% of the state, but private owners do not necessarily own the mineral and energy resources beneath the surface of “their” land. Gas and oil exploration can and does occur on private lands, even if the property owner objects.
DREAM: A minimal human footprint reduces the land and waters disturbed from energy development. The footprint maximizes human desire for health, beauty, working landscapes and future generations. State and federal lands are leased only for renewable generation, supplemented with natural gas leases in these transition times.
Our Energy Infrastructure Commons
To optimize the infrastructure we all share as recipients of energy, three dreams need to come true. The configuration of the components (power generators, transmission and distribution lines, meters) of the energy web should favor distributed energy and local and renewable sources as the highest and best design.
Settlement patterns for towns and cities (their buildings, roads, railroads, farm-to-city freight) need to be designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Citizens have the ability to choose whether a regulated monopoly, rural cooperative, aggregated distributed energy coop or public utility is best suited to address the issues resulting from climate change.
Our Global Financial Commons
Aligning financial investments and rate structures with renewables, energy efficiency, and distributed energy is one of the great barriers to stopping climate change and providing reliable energy (see Restoration Economy). It requires coordination of local utilities as well as global banks, investors and bond- holders from many states and nations.
The Ethical Commons
The basis of good governance New Mexican utilities and government agencies provide organizational transparency and strong anti-corruption rules, oversight of energy and cash flow accounting to prevent Enrons, limits on lobbying, and encourage citizens to participate in energy-system operations and future planning, and help educate through schools, churches and businesses.