My Comments at the PNM Hearing

My Comments At The PNM Hearing by Peter Burrows elburropete@gmail.com – silvercityburro.com 5/20/17

Last Thursday, Public Service of New Mexico (PNM) held a public meeting to get input on the company’s tentative plans to eliminate the use of coal by 2031.  There were about 60 people there, but my guess is that at least half were PNM employees or people associated with PNM’s coal operations.

Of those locals who made public comments, only three, by my count, favored PNM continuing to use coal: Chamber of Commerce Director Scott Terry; the Mayor of Santa Clara, Richard Bauch; and myself. If you read Christine Steele’s coverage of the event in The Daily Press, you will see she covered comments by Terry and Bauch, but nothing on my comments.

Ms. Steele, whom I met a number of years ago when she worked at the Sun-News, probably thought what I had to say just wasn’t worth the cost of the newsprint. Sigh. Call me Pete Dangerfield.

She did cover remarks by Tom Manning, director of Citizens for Fair Rates and The Environment, to the effect that if PNM didn’t expense writing off the coal plants, then PNM’s customers “would see the savings in the transition from coal to renewables immediately,” to quote Ms. Steel‘s article.

I spoke after Manning, and by chance my comments addressed his assumption that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, with a request that PNM publish estimates of what it would cost to go 100% renewable.  This would require lots of energy storage and the cost would be huge.

Environmentalists claim, usually in good faith, that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, right now, sans any “social cost” of carbon. They are wrong. Look at your electricity bill. You will see you a “renewable energy rider” that increases your cost, not a “renewable energy credit” that reduces your cost.

The real-world cost of renewables is something PNM apparently doesn’t want to publicize.

I wonder: If I had introduced myself as the Founder and Chairman of “Citizens For Energy Justice,” would  Ms. Steele have given me a little print space?  Hmmmm.  (Donations to the above are NOT deductible. Libertarians don’t believe taxpayers should subsidize special interest groups.  Cash preferred :~)

Below is a draft of my comments:

Thank you, My name is Peter Burrows. I have been a PNM customer for 11 years. I have a couple of requests.

First,  I urge you to continue to use coal to the extent justified by quantifiable objective costs, not highly subjective costs such as the estimated costs of carbon externalities. I realize you are being implored to eliminate coal in order to save the world, but you should put this into context. The most recent Greenpeace/Sierra Club survey of global coal-fired utilities, “Boom and Bust 2017,” shows that if India and China build no more coal plants and only 20% of the coal-fired utilities in the planning stage in the rest of the world are actually built, by 2031 new coal generating capacity worldwide –NEW capacity–will still equal 434 times PNM’s San Juan/Four Corners generation (497MW + 265MW, and 126 times as much as both plants’ total combined capacity: 1,848 MW SJGS + 770MW FCPP) While NM’s environmentalists want to save the world from coal, it appears much of the rest of the world just doesn’t want to be saved.  Even Japan is adding over 21 gigawatts of coal power.

Secondly, the claim that renewables are cheaper than coal is just plain false. I don’t have time to go into the details on why “Levelized Cost Of Electricity (LCOE)” calculations are misleading other than to quote an MIT study from March of 2016: “ The LCOE —fails to capture the true cost of generation, and merely represents the cost of serving different parts of the load curve.” (Mapping The Economics of U.S. Coal Power and the Rise of Renewables- MIT March 2016.)

This means that solar generating costs at high-noon on a sunny day may be cheaper than coal, but in order to provide electricity at midnight, solar generation must be far greater than required at high-noon and the excess must be stored. This is very expensive.

PNM has been operating the 500KW Prosperity Energy Storage Project for a number of years now. It was once touted as “the nation’s first solar storage facility fully integrated into a utility’s power grid.” (Renewable Energy World, “New Mexico Utility Adding Wind, Solar and Geothermal to Its Power Mix, by Barry Cassell 3/2/15.)

I assume you have lots of cost data from this project and can provide us with an estimate of what our utility bills would be if PNM was 100% renewables-with-storage.  I suspect it would validate what Bill Gates said about the cost of going to all renewable electricity: “Beyond astronomical.”

And this is my second request: I would like you to publicize such cost estimates.  I would like to know what my bill would be if PNM generated electricity 100% from renewables. TYVM.

IF TIME:  Finally, PNM has a program called “Sky Blue” by which customers agree to have their bills increased to help pay for the extra cost of renewables.  Extra cost? Yes, indeed. Check your utility bills for the renewable energy rider. Participation in this program has been declining over the years, from 13,000 residents in 2011 to 3600 in 2013 to xxx today. (At the time, I had not heard back from PNM’s home office on the current number of Sky Blue customers. Within minutes of completing my comments, both a PNM representative in the audience and the home office called.  Both had the same number: 4068. Higher than I expected  but still far lower than 2011.)  This indicates demand for renewables is being driven by mandates and subsidies, not customers.

There are two things I would like PNM to do with this program. One, offer to publicize the names of participants if they agree. We want to celebrate such selfless visionaries, don’t we? Second, I’d like to see you offer a “NO Sky Blue” program where people, such as myself, can sign up to have our bills singled out for reductions of the renewable rider.  I realize most in this room think an old, evil global warming denier like myself should pay for my sins, but I, of course, only think it’s “electricity justice” if those who want renewables pay for them.  TYVM.

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