COMMENTARY: I was wrong recently when I wrote about not using any of the New Mexico Permanent Fund. It’s a resource for when New Mexico runs out of money from the extractive industries. New Mexico has saved a portion from every oil and gas dollar in a rainy-day fund.
Proponents of raiding the Permanent Fund are looking for a small percentage to politically increase the number of people working for New Mexico in pre-school education and family support. They say the $15 billion is just waiting for a worthy project.
Let’s take it all right now. New Mexico is dead last in almost every category. We as a state are on our backs in a pond with a rock on our chest looking up at the sky with lifeless eyes.
New Mexico cannot compete against other states because of our problems in education, transportation, job creation, fighting crime, poverty and other measures. Businesses are moving from the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt but not to New Mexico.
We have billions of dollars for a rainy day. If this isn’t a rainy day I don’t know rainy days. The leaders of New Mexico need to take most of that $15 billion fund and use it wisely.
Don’t use it as a political bonus for those politicos who won elections such that the winning party members all get thousands of dollars. That would not change anything in New Mexico, except that a few people would have new boats.
The Permanent Fund was created by extraction of energy in our state. Oil and gas built the fund over the years. As a nation, our energy industry allows us to have the society we have. Without abundant and inexpensive energy, our nation and New Mexico would not be doing well, even as well as last-place New Mexico.
There are three problems that need to be addressed with the $15 billion or a large percentage of that money. They are energy availability at a good price, water availability at a good price, and a sustainable economy.
First, let’s consider energy. There are huge changes in the nuclear power generation industry, such that the horror of Chernobyl or Fukushima nuclear problems are not appropriate to consider. Why? Because those were first- and second-generation nuclear systems that failed.
We are considering fifth-generation systems that are very economical and safe. By economical, the price of a small modular unit is about $3 billion to generate 550 MW of power. New Mexico needs three units so it can take one offline for maintenance without disrupting the state.
Here is what will change New Mexico. Nuclear plants run best at 100 percent, so there would be lots of extra power available at times. What to do with it? The first task of excess power is the desalinization of brackish water, and New Mexico has lots of to turn into good water.
New Mexico could have abundant good water for agriculture at essentially very little cost. Lots of jobs and businesses would follow inexpensive power and plenty of good water. What else to do with the extra power from the three units?
New Mexico could make hydrogen fuel for the coming generation of clean hydrogen vehicles. The money from electric, water and hydrogen would go to the budget, with some rebuilding the Permanent Fund.
The fund could jumpstart the state’s ability to attract good companies that would provide good jobs for New Mexicans. To have plenty of good water is essential along with plenty of money for transportation infrastructure. Finally, all the improvements must be sustainable. That’s the tough part.
Regardless of which political party holds the reins of power, the structure of improvements must be impervious to political design. Not sure we can do it, but we can try. Currently, New Mexico has all that money sitting doing nothing but functioning as a rainy-day fund and giving some money to the budget.
It is time to make a radical change in the structure of New Mexico’s future. It will take both political parties and the citizens voting to make this happen. If not, New Mexico will continue to be last in everything.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.