COMMENTARY: America’s renewable energy revolution has demonstrated something that was previously thought to be impossible: We can turbocharge the economy while protecting the environment.
But the movement for solar and other clean technologies has also demonstrated something even more improbable: In this age of extreme political gridlock, it’s possible to unite left and right.
While many have considered green energy the exclusive domain of environmentalists and progressives, some of the strongest advocates are actually conservative Republicans, libertarians, and Tea Party activists. The reason is simple: Expanding renewables means creating free-market competition, enhancing consumer choice, and cutting bureaucratic red tape.
As the Legislature concludes its current session, lawmakers have an opportunity to build on this bipartisan momentum and support a green-energy agenda that can not only advance the economy and protect the environment but actually unite New Mexicans of diverse political persuasions.
For a sense of the opportunity, consider the accomplishments of green energy to date.
In an age in which unemployment is still unacceptably high in our state, solar power alone has led to the creation of more than 1,600 high-quality jobs that support families and growth that reverberates throughout the economy. The number of solar jobs across the country has doubled over the past five years, and there are now more people working in the sector than on the nation’s oil rigs and gas fields.
Renewables have already produced demonstrable improvements in the quality of the air we breathe and the sustainability of the planet we’re passing on to future generations. Solar has also reduced costs for consumers by injecting genuine free-market competition into the distribution of energy. It’s given families something they’ve long been denied in the electricity sector: choice.
Right now, state policymakers have the rare opportunity to stand up for one of the rare policies that resonates with both right and left. Unless the Legislature acts, the state residential solar tax credit — a cost-effective public policy that has helped 5,500 families across New Mexico install solar panels and leveraged approximately $30 million in private investment — will expire at the end of the year.
This isn’t about special advantages for solar. It’s about leveling the playing field. Across the country, renewables receive a small fraction of the subsidies other forms of energy receive. Given that only 2 percent of our current electricity mix comes from the sun, there’s huge potential to boost employment, cut long-run costs, and improve environmental outcomes by expanding solar. The residential tax credits are a prime vehicle for doing so.
Still — as Republican leaders in Santa Fe and Washington have contended for a generation — one of the best ways for government to facilitate the growth of an industry is sometimes to simply stay out of the way. Case in point is a regulatory bill that’s under consideration in the Legislature this session.
While HB 256 purports to help consumers by imposing extensive disclosure requirements and other regulations governing solar purchases, the bill — which was drafted without any consultation with consumer groups, state regulators, or renewable industry representatives — imposes costly and duplicative requirements, some of which are seemingly impossible to comply with.
While the solar industry has strong consumer-protection standards, the legislation would subject firms to bureaucratic red tape far more stringent than those applying to sellers of other big-ticket items like cars. The intentions of the bill only become clear when its origins come to light: HB 256 is a word-for-word copy of state legislation in Arizona and Nevada that reflects big, out-of-state corporate interests seeking to stifle the growth of renewable energy.
Our legislators shouldn’t fall for the trick. There’s too much at stake.
Energy’s old guard shouldn’t fear solar: The renewable revolution means change but also positive opportunity across sectors of society. Solar users save utilities money in the long-run by reducing the amount of energy utilities need to generate or purchase from traditional power plants. There’s less need for big capital investments and ultimately greater resilience in the grid.
When renewables create jobs and protect the environment, everyone wins. Thankfully, people on the right, left, and every other point on the political spectrum have come to understand the positive potential.
Regina Wheeler is the CEO of SunPower by Positive Energy Solar.