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New Mexico embarking on a mini-Green New Deal

New Mexico's Green New Deal
  • New Mexico's legislature has passed a bill that requires the state's utilities to be completely carbon-free by 2045
  • It's the third state to set a 100 percent renewable goal -- and by some measures the most ambitious and toughest 
  • The legislation includes money to close a coal-fired plant and retrain workers who lose their job

The debate over a "Green New Deal" may be just heating up nationally as a way to combat climate change while cultivating economic growth, but some states are already planting the seeds.

New Mexico's House of Representatives on Tuesday passed landmark legislation to move the state to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. The Senate also has approved the bill, and it will now head to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said she will sign it.

The bill, known as the Energy Transition Act, also sets nearer term goals for half the state's power to come from renewable sources by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040. It's a major move for a state that gets the majority of its electricity from fossil fuels. New Mexico is the third-largest producer of crude oil in the U.S. More than half of the state's electricity comes from burning coal.

"It's a huge deal. It sets New Mexico up to be a leader in renewable energy," said Sanders Moore, director of Environment New Mexico, an advocacy group involved in crafting the legislation.

"We're the second-sunniest state in the county -- we have tremendous renewable energy resources that can help us lead the way in this transition. It can be done," Moore added.

Mexico is only the third state to pass a bill requiring 100 percent renewable electricity, but its backers say it's moving even more aggressively than California and Hawaii, the other two states that have passed such laws. The New Mexico bill is worded as a mandate, while California's is more aspirational.

Sweetheart deal?

New Mexico's bill also points to what a national-level Green New Deal might look like. It provides up to $60 million to close coal plants. That includes $20 million to retrain people who lose their jobs and a dedicated fund for Native people affected, who make up the vast majority of the workers in the state's coal mines and power plants. It also allows the state's biggest utility, PNM Resources, to walk away from a coal-powered plant, the San Juan Generating Station, without suffering major financial losses.

That's one reason why the state's utilities didn't oppose the bill—and a point of criticism from some environmental activists. Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the New Energy Economy, a local nonprofit, criticized the deal as a giveaway to PNM.

"There was a trade made, and the trade was we want an increase in the renewable portfolio standards, and PNM gets what it wants," Nanasi told CBS News. "I don't think the trade was worth it, and I think it's very dangerous to empower the incumbent utility when it has failed to deliver in the past and has made poor financial decisions," she said.

How one small city sowed the seeds for its own Green New Deal

A New York-based company is currently in talks to buy the plant for a mere $1, according to Bloomberg.

Advocates for the bill in the legislature argued that it would lower consumers' electric bills, while opponents said it would increase those costs. PNM's own analysis shows that closing the San Juan plant and moving consumers to renewable resources would save them an average of $3 to $4 a month.

Said Nanasi, "Right now, renewables are cheaper than gas, so if we just had to make our case on the strength of the economic argument, we win."