By Mary Alice Murphy
The main speaker at the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon was Matthew Gonzales of Consumer Energy Alliance. Chamber president Sabrina Pack introduced him.
"I am a natural resources consultant and an elected official in Cimarron, New Mexico," Gonzales said. "I hear the same common themes of chamber members saying that their chambers do well with businesses, but they don't bring in people to talk about policy issues and issues that matter for businesses.
"No one is bringing energy under the umbrella like the Consumer Energy Alliance is trying to do," he continued.
The founder of the group in 2006 started it to talk about keeping energy affordable. "Energy matters to everyone, it's not just the lights and fuel. We focus on families. Every family needs to make ends meet. In Cimarron, 70 percent of the residents live in poverty. If energy costs go up, they will have to give up something else to afford to keep the lights on and fuel their vehicles."
The Consumer Energy Alliance is a non-partisan group. "We talk about energy. We are in a district including New Mexico and Colorado. All over the U.S., we have more than 500,000 members. A lot of people talk about energy, but often it's not based in fact. We talk facts. In New Mexico, we can tap into every sort of energy from oil and gas to coal to yes, solar and wind."
He alleged that environmental groups come from Santa Fe and attack mining, for instance. "We push back. It is always easy to have an opinion, but when they visit, they learn more. We try to push back against anyone trying to put anyone out of business. Yes, we have to talk about and take care of the environment. I visited the Chevron plant in Midland. They train their engineers in taking care of the environment. It is in their best interest to do their best to be good neighbors. The large companies do take care of the environment. Sometimes, it's one person in one small business who can give the whole industry a black eye. There are always bad actors in every industry."
Gonzales said many environmentalists say to leave energy in the ground and use the "free wind and the free solar. But, in reality, to use the wind and the solar they need that copper that's in the ground, as well as the rare earth minerals that are mined. We try to point out the hypocrisy. We all need to be smart in the transition to more renewable energy."
He cited the various types of energy used throughout the world—wind, solar, oil, nuclear, coal, natural gas, algae and dung. "Of the seven billion people in the world, two billion are using wood and dung as their primary source of energy. We tend to forget how good we have it. New Mexico also has the opportunity for hemp manufacturing, and a bi-product is biofuel. New Mexico can embrace every form of energy. Solar is less than 1 percent of all energy we use in the country. We use natural gas in fertilizers and petroleum for plastics and items such as tires. Because solar and wind make up only 3.5 percent of total energy consumption, it is not realistic to rely on them to take care of all our energy needs."
He talked about pros and cons of solar, with the pro that it is non-polluting, "but it requires rare earth minerals that we have to buy from China. China and India do a very poor job of taking care of the planet. They have over 1 billion people. They are aspiring to live the kind of life we live. They want to just flip a switch to turn the light on. For them energy is anything they can get their hands on. With wind, the issue is with stray voltage. Studies have shown that cattle that graze under wind turbines have lower reproduction rates. I, personally, like wind better than solar, because we have the copper here that can be used for it."
As for petroleum, with modern technology, a company can drill one hole and drill out in six directions, so it lessens the impact on the environment. "There is no greener energy than nuclear, but people don't like it. Ask an environmentalist, and they will say but what about all the contamination in Grants. In Grants, 88 percent of the contamination is natural, it's not from mining uranium."
"What I love about America, is that we have the smartest people," Gonzales said. "We have the best technology. Companies are putting more money and research into innovation."
Coal is another source of energy, but it's hard to use now because of public scrutiny. "We have a lot of natural gas, so it's a reasonably priced and plentiful energy resource."
Hydroelectric doesn't work in New Mexico. Dams for hydroelectric use are not cost effective in this state. "We do have geothermal in this area. And just about every pueblo has geothermal energy sources. As for biomass, half of all corn grown in the country is used for ethanol. The problem is that it takes a gallon and a half of gas to make a gallon of ethanol."
Rural communities rely on tourism, but when the economy is down, it costs too much to travel.
"The biggest issue with renewables is their reliability," Gonzales said. "They rely on battery storage. And when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, they require a backup source of energy. Right now, 56 percent of New Mexico energy is produced using coal, with 30 percent natural gas. About 14 percent is from other sources. But we must try make sure prices are affordable for the state's residents. Not a single legislator that passed the Energy Transition Act works in power generation, so they don't understand it. We have to make sure the ETA doesn't impact our poor citizens."
He said a cost analysis was done to determine what would happen if four major appliances needed to be changed out to comply with the Green New Deal. It would cost each and every American family $3,000 for a total of $244 billion to change four appliances in every home.
Energy costs should be about 6 percent of a family's annual budget, but in New Mexico many families don't have the basic income to afford that much. "In Cimarron, all our churches work together to help people with utility bills and food."
One of the problems with solar energy in New Mexico is the lack of enough transmission lines. "Sierra County is trying to do a solar array, but they were told that the transmission lines were at capacity. We have to build pipelines for oil and gas and will need transmission lines for renewable energy. One of the biggest obstacles to wind turbines is there is not a lot of reclamation going on when the turbines wear out. I firmly believe that when solar panels in Albuquerque are at their end of life, the waste will end up in rural areas. We need to look at reclamation for wind and solar, just like the companies are doing for oil and gas."
Luis Terrazas from the audience asked how much space will be needed for enough solar panels and wind turbines to provide 100 percent renewable energy.
"I don't have an answer," Gonzales said. "Although the environmentalists will tell you not much."
[Editor's Note: The proposed PNM solar array is considering 500 acres for 50 megawatts of energy.]
"We are seeing energy consumption going up, but emissions going down," he said. "The U.S. has seen the largest reduction in emissions of any country. Even in 2040, we will still be using some fossil fuels. We want reliable energy for health care and for our everyday lives."
He suggested people look at the organization website at consumerenergyalliance.org for more information.
The next speaker was New Mexico Miss U.S. Agriculture, Davis Marie Atwater from Silver City. "I am serving from 2019-20. We are women who advocate for agriculture as a state. I am working on a platform, but I haven't completed it yet. I want to be available to talk about agriculture anywhere I can help. Please contact me."
Gonzales asked for questions and comments. "We are a membership organization. We will equip you with the facts. We see the need to keep you up to speed on energy issues. We don't advocate in Santa Fe. We advocate on the local level."
Chamber Board member Derek Ratcliff reminded the members of the fundraiser golf tournament taking place on Sept. 21.