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A just energy transition for New Mexico

A just energy transition for New Mexico

This is a guest post written by Travis Kellerman. Follow him on Twitter.

New Mexico finds itself thrust into an unprecedented position of leadership in the race to transition to clean energy. We have an opportunity to unveil a model that combines climate and economic justice.

We can show the rest of the country: This is how we adapt and fight together, with affordable energy for all and efficiency investments for those who need it most. There are dueling demands in the critical energy transition. As we frantically rush to hit carbon neutrality by 2050, the demand for electricity is doubling. Decrease emissions; increase power.

If we fail on carbon reduction, we accelerate the ravaging effects of climate change. We’ll abscond from our global responsibility. And we’ll feel it locally. If we fail to provide increased, affordable power — a human rights issue — blackouts and brownouts will become a crippling norm. The working poor will be thrust deeper into a day-to-day survival state. We will fail those who have, so far, been excluded from the energy transition. We take from them the literal power needed for education, dignified life and inclusion in the new economy.

This theft of human futures is unnecessary and unproductive. It slows the transition for all of us. For many in New Mexico, a full 15 percent of income goes to our utility bills. In certain areas, some of us sacrifice over 30 percent of total income, just for energy. Working-class New Mexicans stand to suffer the most as power grid demand increases and prices rise.

Yes — regulation on rates can soften the effects. But hitting root cause? We need to stop the heat loss and power bleed from inefficient housing. Energy inefficiency is a tax on the working class. Stuck in an endless cycle of increasing rent, utility bills, and month-to-month survivalism — the hope of owning or making a home more efficient is a distant dream. Landlords and the housing market have little incentive to improve structures for those who cannot afford to pay more rent.

The Community Energy Efficiency Development Block Grant Act has a requested appropriation of $10 million to make 2000 homes substantially more efficient with retrofits and low-hanging upgrades. The improvements reduce use and carbon impact as our energy supply stabilizes and shifts to renewables. The positive impact benefits everyone. The bill also authorizes low-income rates at the Public Regulation Commission. The result? Working-class people finally get some relief from high energy costs — and have 10 percent or more of their income freed.

This is what inclusive investments in a just energy transition can mean. The confluence of needs over compromise. We all win. We all survive. House Bill 37, The Community Energy Efficiency Development Block Grant Act, is just the start and only a piece of the transition. Upgrading 2000 homes is a small fraction of the real need in our state. But the act tests and proves a model to accelerate a focus of targeted investment. New utility reporting can match funds to areas, structures and people most in need.

Identifying owed amounts, disconnections, and high use per square foot are all possible using existing data. And this same targeting also smooths the strain on the power grid and moderates demand on gas heating as we transition.

The governor has boldly called for a net-zero commitment target of 2050 in the Climate Solutions Act. In less than 30 years, New Mexico will be a carbon-neutral state. This intensive effort to reduce emissions must be matched with an equal effort to meet our increasing demand with affordable energy. These are complementary acts. They represent the same fight and serve the same, shared needs of a community unified in its commitment to an inclusive transition.