Let’s Talk: New Mexico

On Friday, March 12th, students and faculty from across New Mexico had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Black, a staffer from the office of Senator Jeff Bingaman, and Andrew Wallace, staffer for Senator Tom Udall, about clean energy, nuclear power in New Mexico, and the legislative process in passing an energy or cap-and-trade bill.  This conference call was a continuation of the series sponsored by the Bard Center for Environmental Policy.

Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico)     Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico)

Students at University of New Mexico, who hosted the call, were especially concerned about why the development of alternative energy in New Mexico has not occurred at a faster rate – especially since New Mexico is a prime location for development of utility-scale solar electric or solar thermal plants.  Wallace pointed out that there are plenty of federal and state incentives in place – the stumbling block is transmission, especially for a utility scale plant.  Any transmission lines built will have to cross thousands of miles of land to connect to the grid in the West – and it’s important to build the grid in the right way with minimal disruption to the land through which it will pass.  Wallace also cited a bit of a chicken and the egg problem with solar and other alternative energies — people don’t want to invest in solar until the price per unit comes down, but the price per unit won’t come down until people start investing in order to drive the market towards innovation and investment.

Another concern in New Mexico is that a carbon tax or other price on greenhouse gas emissions will disproportionately affect New Mexicans because of their dependence on energy inputs for electricity and agriculture.  Both Wallace and Black called this a misconception.  Lots of incentives are offered for home energy improvements, so New Mexicans should invest in alternative energy technologies in order to protect themselves.  How do we deal with the cost and economic impacts of upcoming carbon regulations? For both staffers, the concern  is more that we are losing out to China and other countries in the race to develop new energy and green technologies.  The longer we wait, the further behind we will be – so we need to get on the ball and create the right incentives to develop these technologies.

Wallace was asked about Senator Udall’s stance on the proposed nuclear plant on Desert Rock.  Wallace walked a middle line in his answer – pointing out that Senator Udall has large concerns about the construction of new coal-fired power plants, but also is concerned about the safety and storage problems associated with nuclear power.  Udall instead prefers that existing coal plants be retrofitted to add additional pollution controls to capture CO2 emissions.  The coal plants in this region are currently pursuing Department of Energy funding to fit proposed new plants in the region with CCS technology.

The latest hot thing in the Senate debates on carbon pricing is the idea of a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade.  Black, a long-time staffer on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that a hearing held last year looked at a variety of different options for controlling carbon emissions, but most of the conversation was directed at cap-and-trade.  In the opinion of Black, most advocates of a tax are only supporting it because of the simplicity of the option, but probably would not vote for it.

This conversation with Jonathan Black and Andrew Wallace was part of an ongoing initiative sponsored by the Bard Center for Environmental Policy.  For more information, visit the Center for Environmental Policy’s website or e-mail us at climate@bard.edu.  Upcoming calls are scheduled with Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Maine, and Iowa.


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