You may have heard that Arizona basks in more solar energy than any other state, and that poor old New Mexico comes in second. And that’s true if you only count total sunshine. But there’s more to solar energy than “raw” sunshine. The wind blows from high-pressure areas (highs) to low-pressure areas (lows), just like the weather reports talk about. Unequal heating on the surface of the Earth causes those highs and lows, and that heat comes from the sun. So wind energy is really solar energy—in disguise.
Arizona has relatively poor wind resources, while New Mexico is ranked 12th nationally for its wind-power potential. So, if you add New Mexico’s solar-energy resources to its “solar-in-disguise” (wind) energy resources, then New Mexico wins the total solar-energy contest by a comfortable margin. But you can’t just put photovoltaic (PV) panels or concentrating solar collectors or wind generators anywhere; geography and land availability have to be considered. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado has already done a study documenting solar and wind “achievable energy-generation resources,” and the result is that New Mexico blows Arizona completely out of the sandbox. We have far more solar energy and “solar energy in disguise” than we know what to do with. And it’s all clean, renewable, “sunstainable” and free.
New Mexico doesn’t win a gold medal very often, but in this case it’s no contest. So what, exactly, are we doing with this amazing gift, this bountiful and extremely valuable “sunstainable” and renewable natural resource? Yes, New Mexico has a respectable single-digit ranking for installed PV capacity per person (although our rating has suffered lately as other states pass us), and New Mexico ranks 12th for installed wind-generator capacity. Both of those notable achievements are the results of the renewable-energy (RE) mandates and incentives passed by previous state and federal administrations. These subsidies were supposed to encourage the adoption of renewable and “sunstainable” energy sources and drive PV and wind system prices down—and that’s exactly what they’ve done. But, compared to New Mexico’s awesome solar energy potential, we’re still way, way behind the power curve.
It doesn’t help that the current state administration has rolled back building energy-efficiency standards and environmental standards and is trying hard to roll back our RE standards, or that the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission (PRC) recently attempted to cut New Mexico’s mandates for PV electricity in half and geothermal power by two-thirds, by issuing a surprise “royal edict” without public notice and in violation of the PRC’s own rules. And it doesn’t help that our state’s largest electric utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), routinely exaggerates the costs and misrepresents the benefits of solar and wind power. Don’t believe everything you see and hear in those glitzy PNM ads.
PNM is preparing to gut the thriving residential and commercial rooftop solar industry in New Mexico and put a stop to community solar PV projects, as well as to city, school, tribal and small village solar PV projects. If you talk to a PNM VP or any other smiling PNM representative, you’ll learn that by purchasing and installing a PV system with their own hard-earned money, and by supplying clean “sunstainable” electricity to the PNM grid during peak summertime demand periods, New Mexico’s homeowners and businesses and towns and schools are ripping PNM off, and PNM is getting ready to start charging those cheaters for that. Surely, our governor or attorney general or PRC commissioners will step in and put a stop to this PNM nonsense, right? Not likely.
A last-stand push-back against clean, renewable, “sunstainable” energy is happening all across the country, even right here in sunny New Mexico. The phrases that pop up in recent reports about RE versus “traditional” electric utilities like PNM tell the story: “disruptive challenges”; “distributed energy defectors”; “stranded costs”; “grid defection”; “grid price parity”; “erosion in sales”; and “solar plus storage”—all bad news for electric utilities.
Tesla, the successful electric-car company, may locate its new “gigafactory” for manufacturing state-of-the-art, high-capacity batteries here in New Mexico. Our sagging state economy could certainly use an electric jolt from Tesla. But PNM VPs are having nightmares about what that means for their bonus checks. Tesla’s batteries are already being used in residential and commercial “solar PV plus storage” systems in other parts of the country. PNM has used its federal and state taxpayer-subsidized “Prosperity Energy Storage Project” to bolster its claim that PV and wind are “unreliable” and that affordable energy-storage options won’t be available any time soon. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the battery factory that proves PNM completely wrong is located at Mesa del Sol, just south of Albuquerque? On a clear day, PNM VPs might even be able to see the Tesla “gigafactory” from their headquarters boardroom.
When New Mexicans have the option to choose electrical energy “liberty and freedom,” instead of electrical energy “indentured servitude,” by simply deciding to generate and store their own electricity, while at the same time significantly reducing their electricity bill compared to what PNM wants to charge them, do you suppose some of New Mexico’s families and businesses will become “Ex-PNM energy users” (PNM-Xers)? An idea that’s bound to catch on, don’t you think?
Gary Vaughn is a professional engineer and president of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. GVaughn@q.com