COMMENTARY: This summer, Las Cruces is focused on a bold goal: the city is aiming to be 80-percent energy self-sufficient by 2050 and totally net-zero in energy usage by 2070.
This isn’t just talk. Las Cruces is making serious progress in driving solar projects and efficiency improvements, and, last year, the city became the first in New Mexico to receive a nationally-recognized rating for sustainability.
We all know these are good moves for improving air quality and cutting emissions. But the biggest advantages of green energy are actually for our economy. By expanding solar, wind, and energy efficiency, Las Cruces can cut consumers’ electricity costs and create jobs.
As solar prices have fallen dramatically — to half what they were in 2008 and one one-hundredth of what they were in 1978 — New Mexico’s generation capacity has grown tremendously. There’s now enough solar in our state to power 83,000 homes. The growth of the industry has meant the creation of 1,900 new high-quality jobs statewide. It’s also created considerable new savings for ratepayers and bolstered home values — all while offsetting some of the pollution caused by burning coal.
This is why people across the political spectrum support green energy. According to a recent study, 91 percent of Americans — including 80 percent of conservative Republicans — believe we should be speeding up our transition toward clean power as a means to protect the planet, save money, and spur innovation.
But, in New Mexico, we’ve still got serious work ahead of us. We’re still getting less than 5 percent of our power from solar. And some out-of-state special interest groups are actually fighting to stop the growth of green energy.
Right now, New Mexico’s political leaders need to commit to simple, popular and cost-effective policies to enable our region’s green growth. There are three policies in particular that can make the difference:
The first is called “net metering.” Under this popular program, New Mexico residents can generate their own power and get credit for what they share with the grid for others to use. By supporting net metering, New Mexico’s elected officials can help promote the growth of solar and ensure that homeowners who generate electricity can use it when they need it.
The second is the state residential tax credit — a cost-effective program that has enabled more than 5,500 NM households to go solar and leveraged about $30 million in private-sector investment. Across America, renewables receive only a small fraction of the subsidies that fossil fuels receive. By reinstating these lapsed credits, the Legislature and government can enable the state to meet its energy goals while helping homeowners save money and boost property values.
The third way elected officials can help our green transition is by expanding our state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Recent polling has found that 80 percent of Americans, including strong majorities of conservative Republicans, support requiring utilities like PNM to generate more clean power. New Mexico’s RPS — which requires that 15.7 percent of our electricity come from green sources by 2021 — is already creating a cleaner environment and a more competitive economy. But we can do better. California’s ambitious renewable standard (50 percent clean energy by 2030) has so far created an estimated 25,500 annual construction jobs as well as thousands of other well-paying jobs in transportation, administration, and finance.
New Mexico has a thousand times more renewable energy potential than we actually need to power our homes and businesses. Las Cruces is seizing the moment and tapping the potential. But — for the sake of our economy, our environment, and our employment situation — we need to move quickly. And this requires stronger political leadership.
Regina Wheeler is CEO of SunPower by Positive Energy Solar. She has 20 years of experience in organizational leadership and optimizing operations. A seasoned executive manager, Regina has proven abilities to lead organizations to identify and respond to risks and opportunities, build organizational capacity, deliver products and services that meet client requirements on budget and on time, cultivate customer awareness, and achieve financial goals.