When it comes to the transition from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy: wind, solar and — sometime in the future — “clean hydrogen,” the International Energy Agency says it can’t happen soon enough. If carbon emissions can’t be sharply and quickly reduced, the IEA warns, global temperatures will continue to rise and so will the annual numbers of catastrophic weather events. Terrible news for the planet.
Perpetually overheated and drought-struck, New Mexico has already gotten with the climate change mitigation program, setting a policy timeline aimed at 45 percent carbon emission reductions by 2030, and net-zero for carbon emissions by 2045. Good, at least aspirationally, for us.
But the IEA report notes, environmental gains from energy transition will also produce losses, in jobs for humans and revenues for states. And the report doesn’t candy-coat the effects on the energy changes. Yes, it says, new “greener” technologies will produce more than a million new jobs, many of them stable and well-paying, but these new jobs are not likely to occur where the old jobs went away.
There is much to hear and fear for New Mexico in the IEA’s jobs assessment. One place where the energy-transition noise and anxiety are highest is in the state’s northwest corner, near the small city of Farmington. There, an enormous coal-fired power plant has already posted its prospective shutdown date and the nearby coal mine that supplies it is preparing to end operations. The area is bracing for devastating effects on local family incomes and town, county and state tax revenues.
There is a potential local replacement for many of those jobs, if the power plant can be retrofitted with carbon capture technology. It would even keep the coal mine and its workers in business for a few months, maybe even a few years, more.
But would that be a good thing for the environment, extending the burning of coal? And would it be “green clean” to keep the plant pumping even if most of its carbon emissions were being recaptured. And is the whole idea economically viable? And, if the San Juan Generating Station carbon capture plan only works with the help of federal subsidies, is it still a good investment of federal money in local jobs and state revenues?
These are the kinds of crucial questions being asked, not by the International Energy Agency, but by the people of San Juan County, of Farmington, New Mexico.
Hannah Grover covers environmental issues for the NM Political Report and local government in Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington, Kirtland and San Juan County for the Farmington, NM Daily Times. She is a graduate of The University of Montana’s School of Journalism in Missoula, Montana.