City and county local governments in New Mexico could opt in to selling electricity generated via wind or solar to residents if a bill proposed by lawmakers was passed.
The Local Choice Energy Act was introduced by a group of Democrat lawmakers, amid the policy-driven 60-day legislative session that opened last week, and was assigned to the Senate Conservation Committee where it awaits a scheduled hearing.
The bill would authorize city, county or Indigenous governments to purchase or generate renewable energy for sale to constituents, intending to expand the use of low-carbon forms of electricity in New Mexico.
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It’s part of a broader effort by Democrats to decarbonize energy in the state, working toward a goal of 100 percent carbon-free power by 2045, a benchmark set in 2019 upon passage of the Energy Transition Act supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Senate Bill 165 was sponsored by New Mexico Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-38) of Las Cruces who serves as chief executive officer of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce.
It would task the Public Regulation Commission to create a local renewable energy program, setting rates and implementing the requirements of the bill.
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Under the program, local governments would be allowed to serve as “local choice energy providers,” meaning they can purchase, sell or trade electricity with a public utility or other providers, and be responsible for all energy generation of behalf of its customers.
The bill also specified that local choice energy providers must at a minimum meet New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard, with renewable energy making up 40 percent of energy sales by 2025, and 50 percent by 2030.
By 2040, 80 percent of power sales must be from renewable sources, and 100 percent by 2045.
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Local electricity customers will be allowed to opt out of the program, and the bill language specifically bars municipal governments from requiring they opt in.
Hamblen said the bill, if passed, could allow local governments to reduce the price of renewable energy for their residents, while allow them to assert local control as the state shifts to renewable, lower-carbon forms of power.
“I am thrilled to be sponsoring the Local Choice Energy Act, because I know it will advance our state’s renewable energy transition, while giving our communities local control over how their electricity is generated and priced,” Hamblen said.
“This legislation will be a game changer for New Mexico, and it will empower our communities to lower the bills for residents and small businesses, while supporting local economic development, and reducing carbon emissions.”
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Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics (D-39), who cosponsored the bill, said it would aid New Mexico in reducing pollution while helping local utility customers lower their electricity bills as the state seeks new sources.
She pointed to similar policy in 10 other states, where Stefanics contended the program proved successful.
“I know that when we get this law passed our communities and the whole state will benefit from it,” Stefanics said.
“All we have to do is look to the other states where this is a reality to see that we can become 100% renewable, while investing in our communities and making it easier for people on fixed incomes to pay their electricity bills.”
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Alysha Shaw, campaign director at Public Power New Mexico, a pro-renewable energy coalition of New Mexico environmental groups said a local choice energy program could broaden access to renewable power throughout the state and allow communities to tailor programs to their own needs.
A report from the coalition said customers served by community-owned electric utilities had 15 to 20 percent lower rates nationally, arguing such a program could lower bills by 25 percent in New Mexico, compared with the state’s investor-owned utilities that served 73 percent of customers in the state.
“Local Choice Energy enjoys broad support throughout New Mexico’s local governments and from people and grassroots organizations across the state, because our communities want to have a choice and some local control in how our electricity is generated and priced,” Shaw said.
“This legislation will unleash New Mexico’s abundant renewable energy and economic development potential.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.