Our local elected officials have been chasing Enchant Energy’s promises of a resuscitated coal industry for roughly a year and a half now. This has cost the City over a million dollars in attorney fees, but the implications of this blind pursuit extent far deeper. In fact, our community will end up paying countless times more in opportunity costs and lost future economic success if we fail to revise our course and focus on a sustainable path forward in the coming months.
Coal is dead.
Not because of politics, but because of economics. Gas prices have plummeted and utilities are seeing wind and solar continually come in as the most cost-effective options as they explore energy portfolio additions and replacements. The reality is that historic coal communities that want to stay afloat need to transition towards alternative energy generation, and that window of opportunity is short. The transition is happening now and it takes visionary leadership to proactively put the future first.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Enchant’s proposal for San Juan Generating Station is that it is fundamentally grounded in the past and lifts a now defunct status quo up above constructive solutions to a future that our community needs to confront.
In 2018 (already two years ago now), UNM economist Dr. Kelly O’Donnell conducted a study of the economic sectors available to Northwest New Mexico to prioritize future growth. The gist of the report was that economies need to be diversified, with a special focus on five sectors: tourist and outdoor recreation, solar + scalable storage, mine reclamation, healthcare and local food systems. The leaders of our community and region should welcoming, not combating, imminent changes and identifying creative pathways for our region to play an integral role in instituting them.
Carbon capture might have a place in industrial plants such as steel mills, cement plants, etc., but installation on an ancient coal burning power plant will never be an appropriate application. It’s time for our elected officials to set futile experiments with coal aside and join the rest of the state and nation in creating a just transition for our communities and workforce into the sustainable and lucrative renewables-based economy of tomorrow.