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NMSU’s Electrify New Mexico Event Explores Beneficial Electrification And Renewable Power

Oct 14, 2020

Many think the electricity revolution happened more than a century ago—Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb; followed by a widespread implementation of electric power.

But the reality is the electricity industry continues to evolve, and there’s a new revolution happening right here in New Mexico.

Electricity stakeholders call it beneficial electrification. It’s a concept of using electricity as a replacement for direct fossil fuel in a way that lowers both cost and total emissions. It happened to be a central topic at Wednesday’s Electrify New Mexico event, a discussion about the future of electricity with state stakeholders hosted by New Mexico State University.

Keith Dennis, from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, shared that the goal is to save consumers money while also benefiting the environment.

“What is beneficial electrification?” Dennis said.  “Another common question I get is, isn't all electrification beneficial? And the answer is, well, it depends on who you ask…for instance, if I said, I'm going to come into your house, you have a brand new gas furnace, I'm going to rip that thing out and put an electric furnace in because that's electrification. Well, that is electrification, but that can cost the consumer a lot of money. And they might not think that's beneficial.”

Electricity is the optimal power source, according to Dennis, because emissions are decreasing from year to year.

“Anything that's plugged into the electric grid is getting better for the environment over time,” Dennis said. “In fact, if you plugged anything into the grid in 2005, by now it would be 29% less carbon emissions intensive than it was then. Just if you operate it at the exact same way, you'd have 29% reduction in carbon, and the trend is going to keep on going out into the future. And at some point, if your emissions are going down so much just from being on the grid, it becomes the best option to pick electricity.”

And the way electricity is generated is evolving. By 2030, 50% of New Mexico’s electricity will be carbon-free per the state’s Energy Transition Act. Mark Faulkenberry, with Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, brought clarity on how the industry is already working toward that goal.

“The one thing that's been unique and consistent about this market, since it has opened, is that we are seeing continued increases in renewable energy,” Faulkenberry said. “It's doing what we had hoped. It's helping ratepayers have the lowest generation resources that are available, and we're seeing more and more renewables.”

Keynote Speaker and NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu spoke about how New Mexico’s resources will help set the state up for success.

“We have a tremendous amount of both natural resources, both minerals in the ground with oil and gas, and renewable energy with wind and solar,” Arvizu said. “So we are rich in energy. The State of New Mexico is rich in energy. And I think, looking at it from the perspective of what the opportunity is, what the potential is, the potential is great here. Now, we're challenged in a lot of different ways, but the assets on which we can build are tremendous. And so that I think is an important part of going forward.”

The state itself is also promoting beneficial electrification, especially within the transportation sector. Nedra Murphy, with the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, says there are currently 32 electric vehicles in the state fleet and 30 new charging stations that will be installed by November in Santa Fe. She says the state is exploring electric vehicles for public transportation and is also working on adopting new regulations.

“Adopting low and zero emission vehicle regulations in the state is a major factor that can increase electric vehicles,” Murphy said. “Other states that have adopted levels of regulations have increased the number of EVs more rapidly than states who have not.”

Ultimately, the event was a way to showcase the progress already been made while underscoring the changes still to come. Arvizu says it’s about correctly utilizing the resources of New Mexico.

“We're in a position where we can actually now claim without any reservations, that we have more functionality, at less cost with many of our renewable technologies. More functionality, at less cost that has absolutely no political implications to it, other than we can benefit from the fact of deploying some of these advanced technologies,” Arvizu said.