MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations
As a small population state with less than two million people and with little heavy industry, New Mexicans consume less than one-half percent of the electricity produced each year in the United States. But as a state with large amounts of coal, oil and natural gas, the 20 power plants in New Mexico annually generate more than one percent of the nation's electricity, the majority of which is sent to other states, primarily Arizona and California.
The capacity of the state's electricity generation plants has changed very little in the past 30 years, since the huge Four Corners and San Juan coal-fired powerplants were built in the northwestern corner of the state. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the large amounts of "excess capacity" meant that more electricity generation plants were not needed and that money was not available to build expensive new plants. For ratepayers, there were few incentives for energy efficiency and conservation. In the regulated utility market, people could challenge plans for new plants before the Public Utility Commission or federal agencies, and some proposed plants were stopped by citizen opposition.
In the past few years conditions have changed: growing population and electricity consumption in the Southwest and electric utility deregulation have made New Mexico's natural resources attractive to companies that want to build new powerplants to serve those markets. As a result, various companies have proposals for about a dozen new plants, one coal-fired and the others natural gas-fired, which would increase in-state generating capacity by about 60 percent in a very few years. And additional plants could soon follow. Most of the electricity generated by the new plants would be used in other states.
The environmental impacts of those plants would be substantial, especially from the large amounts of water used and air emissions. The mining of coal and natural gas also create significant environmental impacts. And in the case of natural gas, increased production could deplete the state's resources within a decade, which would result in significant job loss and tax revenue decreases.
In contrast, New Mexico's wind and solar power resources are enormous and virtually untapped. New Mexico is lagging behind some neighboring states in promoting those renewable resources. Development of those renewable energy resources could both create jobs, especially in rural areas, and provide electricity with minimal air pollution and water consumption.
In this issue, we explore some of the efforts to promote and develop renewable energy in the Southwest and concerns that some people are raising about the new fossil-fuel plants. Everyone will be affected as a consumer of electricity, and future generations will also be affected by the next generation of electricity production and its impacts on people and the environment.
New statewide poll finds sweeping, bipartisan support for renewable energy standards and power plant water savings
The Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy release the results of a poll that shows strong bipartisan backing among New Mexico voters for key energy and water initiatives under consideration by state leaders in Santa Fe. The poll shows that large majorities of New Mexicans want more of the energy to come from renewable technologies like wind and solar, and they want new limits on water use by conventional power plants.
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"In 1990 five U.S. National Laboratories reported that either fair competition plus restored research priority, or a proper accounting of its environmental benefits, could enable renewable energy to supply three-fifths of today's total U.S. energy requirements at competitive prices. Renewables could even supply one-fifth more electricity that the United States now uses."
--Natural Capitalism, 1989
Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins