Two Cabinet Secretaries

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

(The Center Square) – Roughly one-quarter of Americans were already struggling to pay rising energy costs before prices at the pump hit record levels this week, according to an analysis published by HelpAdvisor. Those suffering the most are in New Mexico.

Nearly one-third of New Mexicans couldn’t pay their energy bill at least once last year, and more than 40% couldn’t pay it every month, the report found. The findings come three years after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed New Mexico’s “mini Green New Deal,” which she promised would lead to greater renewable energy production and reduce costs for consumers.

Neither has proven to be the case.

“It’s extremely worrisome that 26.5% of respondents from New Mexico couldn’t pay their energy bill at least once over the last year. What is even more troubling is that over 40% couldn’t pay it each month,” author of the HelpAdvisor report, Christian Worstell, told The Center Square. “It’s hard to imagine the sacrifices these households have to make on a monthly basis, like skipping meals or not filling prescriptions, because they’re worried they won’t be able to pay this month’s energy bill.”

In total, 491,646 New Mexicans couldn't pay their energy bill at least once last year, the report found. One in five, 20%, kept their homes at an unsafe temperature to lower their bill – the highest percentage in U.S. And 30.6%, the second-highest percentage in the U.S., went without food or medicine in order to pay their energy bill, the report found.

Since the report was conducted, New Mexicans woke up to even higher gas prices as a result of Biden administration energy policies that have led to Americans becoming dependent on foreign oil, critics of the president's energy policies contend. As the Russian-Ukraine conflict intensified, prices at the pump continued to rise.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in New Mexico was more than $4 – increasing by 14 cents overnight as of March 8.

Gas prices in New Mexico are currently 47% higher now than they were the same time last year, AAA reports.

The average $4.038 per gallon is only 4 cents lower than the highest ever recorded average price in the state, Larry Behrens, communications director at Power The Future, told The Center Square.

“The energy crisis is man-made,” he said, “and the silence from leaders in Santa Fe is deafening. Terrible policy decisions out of Washington, with the full support of Gov. Lujan Grisham, have delivered massive energy bills to New Mexico’s families.”

The governor “will try to dance around the truth,” he said, “but New Mexicans know she has a long anti-energy record and now we’re all paying the price.”

Rising energy prices in New Mexico come after it became the second-largest oil producer in the U.S. in fiscal year 2021, behind Texas. In the same fiscal year, New Mexico’s oil and natural gas industry contributed $5.3 billion to state and local governments in tax revenue, the highest figure ever recorded in state history.

Despite an abundance of oil and gas in the state, New Mexico energy bills are so high because of the state’s “mini ‘Green New Deal,’” Behrens said. It requires New Mexico to purchase electricity from unreliable intermittent wind and solar energy sources that are also more expensive, forcing electric bills to go up.

“In early 2019, Gov. Lujan Grisham championed her own ‘mini’ Green New Deal despite warnings it would raise electric costs,” he told The Center Square. “Now, the governor will spend the seven months trying to make New Mexicans forget she is responsible for crippling energy bills. The green agenda hurts low-income families the most, every time."

Many warned that Grisham’s Energy Transition Act would lead to higher energy costs and the possibility of blackouts due to lack of reliable energy sources.

In January of this year, Tom Fallgren, vice president for energy generation at the Public Service Company of New Mexico, confirmed this. He told the Santa Fe New Mexican that there may not be enough electricity this coming summer during peak months, adding the PNM had no reserve margin for July and August. Instead, it was planning for “brownouts,” known as rolling blackouts, which involve rotating customer outages that last between 1-4 hours.

Part of the reason for the planned power outages is because of supply chain issues delaying solar energy projects the state needs for replacement energy. But the underlying reason is because the Public Regulation Commission won’t allow PNM to use natural gas as a reliable source of energy.

The Energy Transition Act was signed into law March 22, 2019. It sets a statewide renewable energy standard of 50% by 2030 for New Mexico investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives and a goal of 80% by 2040. It also set zero-carbon resources standards for investor-owned utilities by 2045 and rural electric cooperatives by 2050.

“The law transitions New Mexico away from coal and toward clean energy, ensuring greater renewable energy production and reducing costs for consumers, and provides tens of millions of dollars of economic and workforce support for communities impacted by coal plant closures,” the governor’s office said when the bill was signed into law.

It “fundamentally changes the dynamic in New Mexico,” Grisham said. “This legislation is a promise to future generations of New Mexicans, who will benefit from both a cleaner environment and a more robust energy economy with exciting career and job opportunities. Crucially, the Energy Transition Act does not leave affected workers and neighbors behind. We look out for each other. With this law, we seal that promise.”

However, the PNM has acknowledged it can’t provide enough energy without using coal or natural gas. In fact, the coal-fueled San Juan Generating Station may remain operational beyond its scheduled June closing date.