New Mexico: Land of Enchantment or Land of Insanity?

New Mexico: Land of Enchantment or Land of Insanity? by Peter Burrows 6/1/19 elburropete@gmail.com – silvercityburro.com 

In the 2019 legislative session, New Mexico lawmakers did a couple of really stupid things: they increased the minimum wage by a whopping 20% starting January 1, with more increases to follow; and they increased the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) from 20% in 2020 to 40% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 80% by 2040.  

What this means is that investorowned electric utilities, such as Public Service of New Mexico, are required, by law, to generate their electrical needs from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, in the percentages mandated.  These new requirements were enacted without proof of feasibility.  

Furthermore, the new law, called the Energy Transition Act (ETA), does not place any restraints on how to reach the 2030 50% goal.  No mention of protecting grid reliability, no mention of limiting the cost. And it’s going to cost. Big time. In fact, getting to 50% by 2030, just ten years from now, will cost so much that I doubt it will be achieved.  

At 50%, the cost to store electricity to use when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing will cost at least $.05 per kWh, and that assumes battery costs drop by two-thirds. Add to that the cost of adding redundant solar/wind to charge the storage, roughly three times the rated capacity; plus the cost of shutting down the San Juan Generating Station, plus the costs of replacing San Juan’s production with reliable back-up generation, and I predict our electricity bills will go up at least 50% to meet the 50% renewable goal,    

And the 80% by 2040? It ain’t gonna happen. You can quote me.  

At least the 80% goal has some common sense restraints: 80% only if the cost to do so is “reasonable” and the reliability of the electric grid is not compromised. Also, going from 50% to 80% cannot be at the expense of zero carbon-emission electricity, which essentially means solar and wind can’t replace nuclear power. The 2040 mix could therefore be 80% renewables and 20% nuclear.    

Interestingly, the ETA’s RPS for 2045 specifies “100% zero-carbon emissions.”  I wonder, does that open the door for nuclear power to provide 100% of New Mexico’s electricity in 2045? Given the prohibitive costs of wind and solar and their disruptive effect on the electrical grid, that would be a desired outcome. “Zero carbon emissions” is not necessarily the same thing as “100% renewable.” 

This is a surprisingly sensible clause — some would call it a loophole — in the new law.  Could it be that someone in the new administration realizes that nuclear power is the ONLY economical way to get to zero carbon dioxide electricity generation? Hmmm. Maybe not so stupid after all. We shall see.     

For the emotional environmentalist, such as those at New Energy Economy in Santa Fe, any amount of nuclear is too much.  On the other hand, for the rational environmentalist, any amount of wind and solar is too much.  

Some of you are thinking, “There can’t be ‘too much’ wind and solar, Burro.   Windmills and solar panels will save the world from the carbon dioxide so casually spewed by greedy capitalists and other selfish people who want the benefits of affordable electricity. You are obviously an evil-racist-climate denier.”   

Right.  

Nonetheless, there is a growing dichotomy within the “Green” movement.  On one side, there is the renewables-at-all-cost crowd, and it seems that no amount of experience will convince them to abandon wind and solar.  California, for example, is finding it very expensive to deal with a growing SURPLUS of solar generated electricity, yet last year California passed a law requiring all new homes to have solar panels. If you think that will increase the solar surplus, go to the head of the class.   

(You Tube: “California’s renewable energy problem,” 18 minutes. Posted 5/25/19.) 

Sandy Jones, when he ran for reelection to the NM Public Regulatory Commission, said that he loved California because they were always showing us what not to do. Naturally, such a sensible person was not reelected.   

On the other side, there is a growing recognition that wind and solar are impractical solutions to the perceived dangers of carbon dioxide. This is not a new idea. Microsoft founder, liberal, and climate alarmist Bill Gates, said years ago that the cost of going 100% renewable would be “beyond astronomical.” I recently read another analyst who said the cost would be “stupendous.”  

The Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based energy policy think tank, estimated the storage cost for California to reach to reach 50% would be $49 per megawatt-hour, or five cents per kilowatt-hour. To reach 100% renewable would cost $1,612 per megawatt-hour, or $1.62 per kWh.  Do you think that qualifies as “stupendous?”  That’s just for storage, nothing for all the additional solar panels and windmills needed to charge the batteries.   

These estimates assumed that technical advances would reduce the cost of lithium batteries by two-thirds.  Even if we cut that optimistic forecast by half, the cost of storage at 100% renewable is still $812 per megawatt-hour, or 81 cents per kWh.  For comparison, my last bill from PNM, before taxes and fees, was about 12 cents per kWh.  

www.technologyreview.com/s/611683/the-25-trillion-reason-we-cant-rely-on-batteries-to-clean-up-the-grid/ 

Francis Menton, who has written extensively on energy, in an article in the Manhattan Contrarian last August estimated it would cost California, at current battery prices, $1.9 trillion for 80% renewable, and $7.2 trillion for 100% renewable.   Again, this is just for storage, nothing for all the extra capacity needed to charge the batteries.  

Divide the lower number by ten, and California could build 13 Diablo Canyon nuclear plants, enough to provide over 100% of California’s electricity, and with zero carbon emissions.  It is no wonder that Bill Gates believes, along with many others, that the only economically feasible way to reduce CO2 emissions from power generation is to use nuclear power.  He thinks the wind and solar push is part of the problem, not the solution:  

https://energy.stanford.edu/news/cheap-renewables-won-t-stop-global-warming-says-bill-gates 

A couple of years ago, Michael Shellenberger, a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” (No, I didn’t make that up!) came around to Bill Gates’ point of view. Shellenberger ran for Governor of California last year as an environmentalist who opposed shutting down California’s last nuclear facility, the Diablo Canyon plant.  He got .4% of the vote in the Democratic primary.             

To understand why Shellenberger opposes wind and solar, see an 18 -minute talk he recently gave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-yALPEpV4w    For a print version: https://quillette.com/2019/02/27/why-renewables-cant-save-the-planet/ 

Shellenberger closes his You Tube talk with this memorable question: “Now that we know that renewables can’t save the planet, are we going to keep letting them destroy it?”  

In fairness to our New Mexico legislators, I’m sure none of them have ever been asked that provocative question.  Most New Mexicans are sold on the idea that we have an abundance of solar, plus quite a bit of wind, and that exploiting these assets will benefit New Mexico’s economy.  Add to that the belief that electricity from solar is now cheaper than coal or nuclear, and it isn’t surprising if people think renewable energy will lower our electricity bills.   

A recent fact sheet from 350.org, an environmental organization, is typical. It states that the ETA “protects consumers and reduces electricity costs as New Mexico moves away from coal.” The same fact sheet says, “Renewable energy is among the least expensive sources of energy and New Mexico contains premier sites for its development.”  

Other environmental organizations say much the same. A 3/17/19 article by Maria Najera of Western Resource Advocates says the ETA will “strengthen New Mexico’s economy” and protect New Mexicans by “reducing electricity costs.” New Energy Economy has made numerous statements of a similar nature.   

They are wrong.   I know of no place in the world where adding wind and solar to an electric grid has lowered the cost of electricity.  Even with zero storage, compensating for the intermittency of wind and solar is expensive.    https://www.manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2018/2/9/how-self-delusional-can-we-be-on-the-cost-of-electricity-from-renewables 

Those claiming that renewables will lower our electricity bills should be able to prove it.  If I had been a New Mexico legislator, I would have made that my number one question:   

1)  Could you give an example of where renewable energy has lowered the cost of electricity, anywhere in the world? 

2) The 50% RPS in 2030 requires that wind and solar provide 12 hours of electricity every day.   How much storage will that require and what would that cost, using best-available technology? What are numbers for 80% in 2045?  

3) Would it make more sense for New Mexico to delay its RPS standards until the cost of storing solar and wind generated electricity is not prohibitive?   

4) My bill from PNM has a line-item charge for renewable energy, not a credit.  As the RPS increases, will that charge increase or will it turn into a credit?  

5) In the future, another line-item charge will compensate PNM for being forced to prematurely shut down the San Juan coal-fired generating plant.  How much will that be, and how long will that go on?  

6) Electricity is the base-commodity all modern economies are dependent upon.  How does making electricity more expensive “strengthen” an economy?   

7) Are there any places in the world where people install wind and solar without being paid to do so, i.e. subsidized, or mandated to do so?  

8) Last question: If Michael Shellenberger and Bill Gates think renewables are a problem, not a solution, and if renewables are used only if subsidized or mandated, doesn’t that make renewables virtually worthless?  

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