Our state finds itself in an unprecedented leadership position in the race to transition to clean energy. We have the opportunity to unveil a model that combines climate justice and economic justice.
We can show the rest of the country: This is how we adapt and fight together, with affordable energy for all and investments in efficiency for those who need it most. There are dual requirements in the critical energy transition. As we frantically rush to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, demand for electricity is doubling. Reduce emissions; increase the power.
If we fail to reduce carbon, we accelerate the devastating effects of climate change. We will shirk our global responsibility. And we will feel it locally. If we fail to provide increased and affordable electricity – a human rights issue – blackouts and brownouts will become a crippling norm. The working poor will be plunged deeper into a state of day-to-day survival. We will defeat those who have so far been excluded from the energy transition. We take from them the literal power necessary for education, life in dignity and inclusion in the new economy.
This theft of human futures is unnecessary and unproductive. It slows down the transition for all of us. For many in New Mexico, 15% of the income goes to our utility bills. In some areas, some of us sacrifice over 30 percent of total income just for energy. Working-class New Mexicans are hit the hardest by increasing demand for the electricity grid and rising prices.
Yes, rate regulation can mitigate the effects. But hit the root cause? We must stop the loss of heat and the loss of electricity from inefficient housing. Energy inefficiency is a tax on the working class. Stuck in a never-ending cycle of rising rents, utility bills and month-to-month survivalism, the hope of owning or making a home more efficient is a distant dream. There is little incentive for landlords and the housing market to improve structures for those who cannot afford to pay higher rent.
The Low Income Utility Affordability Act calls for $ 10 million to make 2,000 homes significantly more efficient with low-rise renovations and upgrades. The improvements reduce carbon use and impact as our energy supply stabilizes and switches to renewables. The positive impact benefits everyone. The bill also authorizes low income rates to the Public Regulatory Commission. The result? Working class people are finally relieved of high energy costs – and 10% or more of their income is freed up.
This is what inclusive investments in a just energy transition can mean. The confluence of needs over compromise. We all win. We all survive. The Low Income Utility Affordability Act is just the start and only part of the transition. Upgrading 2,000 homes is only a small fraction of our state’s real needs. But the law is testing and proving a model for accelerating the concentration of targeted investments. New utility reports can match funds to the areas, structures and people who need them most.
Identifying amounts owed, disconnections, and high utilization per square foot are all possible using existing data. And this same targeting also eases the pressure on the electricity grid and moderates the demand for gas heating as the transition progresses.
The governor boldly called for a 2050 net zero commitment target in the Climate Solutions Act. In less than 30 years, we will be a carbon neutral state. This intensive effort to reduce emissions must be matched by an equal effort to meet our growing demand with affordable energy. These are free invoices. They represent the same struggle and serve the same shared needs of a united community in its commitment to an inclusive transition.
Travis Kellerman is an environmental, social and governance (ESG) and impact strategist and technology entrepreneur who has lived in New Mexico since the age of 15.