Proponents say measure will strengthen state’s economy, create jobs

Seth Roffman

On December 6 the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) voted to adopt a petition from the nonprofit New Energy Economy (NEE), creating a new state carbon pollution reduction program. The new state pollution limit, approved by a 4-1 vote, will require the state’s largest polluters to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels, starting in 2013. The emission cuts would put New Mexico in a league with California among states with the most stringent controls on greenhouse gases. The approval is the culmination of a two-year petition process. The EIB also approved a regional cap and trade agreement in November.

NEE Senior Policy Advisor Mariel Nanasi said the rule is designed to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible to meet the carbon reduction goals, but she said what’s more important is what the rule means for NM’s economy. “This new policy makes NM the nation’s leader in carbon pollution reduction while at the same time stimulating our economy and creating jobs for NM families and communities,” Nanasi said. “The board understands that the same technologies that can reduce carbon pollution can also make NM more competitive in the clean energy economy, which means more long-term, well-paying jobs for New Mexicans.”

Opponents of the rule say that it will do little to change the environment, will raise consumer prices, cost jobs, and put NM companies at a disadvantage because of increased costs of producing energy. Some discount the value of renewable energy, at least in the short term.

New Mexico, second in the nation for solar energy potential and 12th for wind power potential, is well positioned to become a keystone in the Southwest’s clean energy economy. “New Mexico has world-class solar and wind resources along with the available workforce and high-tech training programs necessary to make it happen,” said Randy Sadewic, founder and president of Positive Energy, one of New Mexico’s leading installers of solar panels. Sadewic’s firm is seeing tremendous growth in clean energy systems. But he says that growth is dependent on policies that level the playing field for all energy sources. Otherwise, the growth could simply stop.

Local job creation is a top priority for Luna Community College (Las Vegas, NM) Academic Director Andrew Feldman, who heads up a sustainable energy program that is seeing growing student interest each year. The new carbon rules will not only boost enrollment in clean energy programs around the state, he said, but will create good, local jobs that will benefit all New Mexicans. “When our students hit the job market, they’ll have many more opportunities to put their knowledge and skills to work. They’ll make our homes and businesses more efficient, saving us money on power bills, and they’ll make our energy supply cleaner, more diverse and more independent, making us healthier and more secure.”

Background

The Rules:

• The carbon reduction program applies to the state’s largest polluters, stationary sources that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide—primarily coal-powered power plants, refineries, and natural gas processing and compression facilities.

• The program calls for 3 percent carbon pollution reductions annually from 2010 levels.

• The program will take effect in 2013 and end in 2020 or sooner if a national or regional carbon pollution reduction program involving NM is implemented.

• The rules include provisions to keep emitters’ costs down through:

o An annual limit on how much emitters will have to spend to comply

o Banking – allowing emitters to hold onto credits for future use

o An “off ramp” if businesses can show that the rules will prove detrimental to their economic viability

• The rule also contains provisions for a reevaluation in 2014.

NEE based its petition on the assertion that carbon pollution constitutes “air pollution” and threatens the health of people and natural resources, under the Air Quality Control Act. Further, the petition requested the reduction of carbon pollution pursuant to the board’s authority to abate and prevent nuisances under the Environmental Improvement Act.

NM’s largest utility, PNM Resources, and the oil and gas industries sued to prevent NEE’s petition from being heard by the EIB, but the NM Supreme Court, in an unprecedented unanimous decision, overruled a lower court injunction, allowing the process to go forward.

PNM and other industries, along with the city of Farmington, have filed a notice to appeal the EIB’s rule. The EIB will likely be replaced by appointees of NM’s new Governor, Susana Martinez.

[SIDEBAR]

Environmental Protection Agency Proposes Utility, Greenhouse Gas Regulations

Haze from three power plants in the Four Corners area affects scenic views in parts of the Southwest. An EPA proposal to be implemented in May requires installation of new catalytic reduction retrofit technology to control emissions at the 30+ year-old coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, NM and other coal plants across the county. The agency seeks to curb emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and other pollutants. The EPA has given the 2,038-megawatt Four Corners Power Plant two more years to install the same technology. The third major coal-fired plant in the region is the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona. It is a major supplier of energy for the city of Los Angeles.

PNM, which owns 46.3 percent of San Juan and operates the plant on behalf of several owners, has said that the proposed rules would likely cost up to $1 billion or more and add about $90 per year for the next 20 years to PNM residential customers’ bills. The utility wants to use other technologies to curb emissions. In 2009, PNM paid the state of NM $6.9 million to settle air quality violations that occurred over the previous four years at the San Juan plant.

The EPA recently decided to delay issuing standards on conventional pollutants from industrial boilers “to further analyze scientific and health studies.” However, despite the shifting political climate, last month the agency announced a timetable for issuing rules limiting emissions from power plants and oil refineries, the top emitters of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that has been linked to global warming.

Having declared greenhouse gasses to be a threat to public health (nitrogen oxide can react with other emissions to form ozone and small particles that can be inhaled), the EPA began regulating those emissions on January 2 under the Clean Air Act. In July the agency will propose performance standards for new or expanding power plants, with final rules to be issued in May 2012. Rules for existing plants are to come by 2015 or 2016. The EPA’s plan is now open to a 60-day public comment period.

SCE to Sell Its Share of Four Corners Power Plant

Southern California Edison (SCE) announced in November that it intends to sell its share of the Four Corners Power Plant to Arizona Public Service Company. The transaction is expected to result in the shutdown of three of the plant’s five generating units. SCE in the past two years has been signing contracts to receive large amounts of electricity from new solar plants and wind farms, as well as from solar photovoltaic installations on commercial rooftops. In recent months, California has moved aggressively toward adopting solar electricity. The state has licensed proposed solar plants with the capacity to generate more than 4,000 megawatts of power.