The Local Choice Energy Act could let New Mexico residents choose to get energy from local providers or investor-owned utilities like PNM. (Getty Images)
It could be a long road ahead for legislation that aims to give New Mexicans a choice about where their electricity comes from.
Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Las Cruces) is sponsoring the Local Choice Energy Act. It would allow tribal or local governments to enact programs that would let people choose local energy providers over investor-owned utilities serving a majority of the state. In places that adopt Local Choice, people would automatically be signed up with the local provider, though they could opt-out.
Hamblen said it creates potential for cheaper energy rates and more renewable energy use.
The measure passed Senate Conservation with a 6-2 vote split along party lines on Thursday.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) voted for the bill but was also heavily critical of it, saying it needs to be largely re-written.
He’s the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the legislation is heading next.
“This bill is going to take a lot more work before it would ever be heard or worked on in Judiciary,” he said.
It’s failed before in the Legislature.
Cervantes said the language is far too vague and full of ambiguities and inconsistencies. Sen. Gregg Schmedes (R-Tijeras), who voted against the legislation, also said he’s worried about some of the policies lacking specifics.
The other lawmaker to vote no, Sen. Steven Neville (R-San Juan), asked about power reliability, something Hamblen said would improve. She used the 10 other states that have enacted local choice legislation as an example. Still, many members of the public at the hearing to oppose the Local Choice Energy Act voiced concerns that reliability would decline.
Laura Sanchez, a spokesperson with the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) — the largest energy provider in the state — said deregulated and decentralized systems aren’t dependable, pointing to the 2021 winter storm that caused power outages in Texas.
“What we’ll be facing here, if this bill goes through, is a lot of local energy providers that will have to figure out how to purchase energy on the market and therefore face a generation problem,” she said.
Stephen Fischmann is a former Public Regulation Commissioner and spoke at the hearing as an expert on the bill. He said last summer, New Mexico was scrambling with a centralized utility — PNM — and faced potential shortages, as well. He added that it’s not fair to assume that a local choice energy provider would be less reliable than PNM, and decentralization could be a good thing.
“By distributing that responsibility, you might be less likely to have one player make a goof, and then have half the state or more than half the state suffer as a result,” he said. “And then, in fact, you might have more reliability and more resiliency.”
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