Leave the Light On

The brisk mornings, shorter days and chilly evening air announce that autumn has at last arrived in Santa Fe. And, as day doth follow night, with these changes come the higher costs to light and heat our homes.

Ours is a modest, cozy three-bedroom house with radiant heat located on Santa Fe's Southside. For each of the last six years, we have experienced significant increases in our energy bills from both the New Mexico Gas Co. and the Public Service Company of New Mexico; this, despite our thrifty habits of keeping the thermostat low, turning off lights in empty rooms, using insulated curtains, wearing slipper-socks and layering up with sweaters.

After a few startlingly high bills several years back, we opted for a rate plan that spreads out the higher cost associated with winter heating and electricity over a 12-month period. But the bills just keep climbing, and now we're paying them all year long.

During the last two presidential election cycles, and in this current one, there has been much talk about energy modernization and increasing America's energy independence. Political and environmental officials have underscored New Mexico's unique position and potential for green energy production.

Local politicians have touted our advantage, as a state, given our natural gas stores and solar energy capacity. Words like "exploration," "innovation" and "incentives" have been bandied about in policy discussions that tacitly proclaim that America—with New Mexico potentially positioned out front—could set a new course to develop solutions to our reliance on outdated, geopolitically destabilizing fossil fuels as an energy source. What's not to like about these overtures? I'm thinking, Yes, we can! Let's go!

Not so fast. I've also observed that the more vigorously we're told about energy innovation and exploration from our politicians, the more sluggishly these plans take form for energy corporations.

Case in point: PNM's most recent request for a 14 percent rate increase and its separate power replacement plan may actually be backing New Mexicans away from clean, renewable and eventually cost-efficient energy, and moving us toward a re-emphasis on coal production. Recent articles in both SFR and the New Mexican have reported that PNM appears to be renewing its commitment to continued, and increased, coal production as a cheaper short-term solution to its strained bottom line.

Adding economic insult to Santa Fe residents' environmental injury, PNM's request for a rate hike last December would have disproportionately affected city homeowners and small businesses, particularly those using solar energy, because they would have been subject to additional solar-related fees.

Now, I like Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol as much as the next dame during the cold season, but I wouldn't trade places with Bob Cratchit's coal-and-candlestick existence for all the tea in London. Plainly put, it's simply not progress.

PNM has partially justified their rate increase, then and now, as a way to recoup their cost of declining usage, upgrades in infrastructure, investments in power plants and other energy innovations. But why are we, the consumers, expected to underwrite so-called innovation and the sluggish strides companies make toward green and clean energy independence, as well as their stubborn commitment to outdated methods and resources?

Here's the Thing: I'm not opposed to energy companies innovating and/or making profits. In the long run, we will all benefit from independent, clean and renewable energy. I am opposed to politicians and energy businesses being disingenuous about how much they're actually moving forward; these backward practices will have devastating implications on the environment and our children's futures. Furthermore, I'm opposed to consumers footing the growing bill for corporate energy's double-dealing. Let's start by shedding light on the fact that there's no such thing as clean coal.

Andrea L Mays is an American Studies scholar and Santa Fean. Write the author: andrea@sfreporter.com

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