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Rebates in federal act may help rural New Mexicans go electric

The push away from fossil fuels and towards electric vehicles and home appliances is a challenge for rural New Mexico, which lacks the basic infrastructure and cash for these innovations.

Though, attempts are being made by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and President Biden's administration through recent legislation signed into law that offers rebates. Heinrich sat down with KUNM to explain how it would work.

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH: So, the Zero-Emissions Homes Act, which got included in the Inflation Reduction Act was an effort to attack the emissions that happened in the places that we live and work. And really looking at the map of emissions, I realized that over 40% of our emissions are tied to the buildings where we live and work. Even though we've made huge strides in reducing emissions from the electric sector, for example, we're still burning fossil gas in our homes and our water heaters and our furnaces, on our gas ranges... And that has a big emissions footprint, and it has a big public health impact. This is a way of getting at that challenge with the new cleaner, zero emissions technologies and holding low- and moderate-income consumers harmless in the process.

So, using a rebate structure to make sure that when you buy that new hot water heater, you pick what makes sense for the longterm. And then you have the benefit of lower utility rates from that point forward and applying that to a lot of different things. Ranges that can be induction. Furnaces that can be replaced with heat pumps. Having those rebates built in at the front end to really incentivize people to make the switch.

These shouldn't be appliances just for the wealthy. That's really why we aimed this at low- and moderate-income folks. And as this adoption happens, the adoption that will be driven by this legislation, what you're going to see is the same thing that we've seen in solar that we've seen in cell phones. Prices will decline as we manufacture more.

KUNM: I'm thinking about people who are not buying a new home. How do we put these appliances in lower income homes, other than rebates? 

SEN. HEINRICH: If you create these incentives, and they're able to be used in the rental market as well, then you get to folks who don't necessarily have control over what is in their rental housing, but you have the incentives there, so that somebody who is doing rental housing, developing rental housing, owning rentals can also access these and use them, and then that flows through to a whole other segment of the market.

But, we also have strong enough incentives that if you're someone who is lucky enough to own your own home, has had it passed down over generations in some cases, but, you know, your water heater breaks... That incentive at the point of sale, not something that you apply for on your taxes and get a year and a half later, but at the point of sale says you can have the best, cleanest, healthiest appliance now.

KUNM: New Mexico just simply doesn't have the infrastructure to support electrical appliances all over the state. You can point to things like… We haven't really fixed the broadband issues on pueblo lands and land grants, for example. How do we make sure folks have the basic infrastructure they need to have these appliances? Because, some of these people don't even have running water…  

SEN. HEINRICH: Well, if you go back and look at the investments that we made in broadband, particularly aimed at low-income communities, tribal communities, and the investments that we made in water in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, it is not a complete solution. But it is by far the biggest investment we've made in water and broadband in decades.

And oftentimes, I think that with some of these technologies, we can sort of leapfrog to the future if we can make the economics work for everyone. As someone who has been experimenting with this myself, both in my last home and this home, it is remarkable how much better these things are. And oftentimes, you don't have to make huge changes to be able to take advantage of this. But, we included things like incentives for someone to redo your circuit breaker box, because we know that some of those are 50 amp, but they're going to have to go up to 100 or 100 amp and they have to go up to 200. So, we tried to build in all of the friction points that today, with an individual contractor, keep people from making the best long-term decision.