Renewable energy could stimulate some of New Mexico’s most rural areas and economic development leaders sought to embrace the sector to diversify economies and provide local jobs.
In a panel hosted last week by Powering New Mexico, an initiative led by the American Wind Energy Association to promote the renewable sector, leaders of local economic organizations in southeast and northern New Mexico discussed how solar and wind energy developments have strengthened their economies and what needs to be done to continue building New Mexico’s renewable energy portfolio.
The State of New Mexico first created a renewable energy portfolio standard in 2017, calling on utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Last year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sponsored and then signed into law the Energy Transition Act which rose the standard to 50 percent renewable by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.
By 2045, the Act required New Mexico to use 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045.
The Act and Lujan Grisham’s clear interest in renewable energy drove developer interest in New Mexico, said Jessie Hunt, executive director of Powering New Mexico.
She said companies are interested in using an abundance of wind and solar resources in the state to not only generate power for New Mexico markets, but sell the energy to other states across the U.S.
“There’s also huge regional demand,” Hunt said. “States around us are interested in buying the wind and solar energy that NM is able to produce as well as companies that are looking for renewable resources that are powering their efforts.”
The New Mexico State Land Office reported six active solar leases with a capacity of 221 megawatts, and 27 lease applications that could bring an added capacity of 2,917 MW when complete.
Most of the state’s solar projects were spread out around southern New Mexico and surrounding the Albuquerque metro area.
For wind projects, the Land Office reported nine active leases for 345 MW of capacity and 19 applications that would increase capacity by 1,835 MW.
Most of New Mexico’s wind development was centered in rural counties in northern and eastern New Mexico.
Renewable energy could diversify economy, energy development
Missi Currier, chief executive officer at the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County said that while southeast New Mexico and the Permian Basin region is known for traditional energy development as the region is the state’s primary oil and gas region, it could also become a hub for renewables as a means of economic and energy diversification.
She said the region had significant wind and solar resources in addition to fossil fuels.
“What we’re known for in Lea County and what we’re proud to be known for is the idea of the energy-plex. We’re fortunate to have all types of energy in southeastern New Mexico, especially in Lea County,” Currier said.
“Of course, we have our more traditional energy sources. We’re very nutrient rich in oil and gas. But just like everywhere else in NM, we have a lot of wind that can really affect your golf game.”
While New Mexico is one of the nation’s top oil-producing states, Currier said that same penchant for energy generation could be applied to renewables and continue to position the state as a national leader in all forms of energy.
“With all those energy sources, southeast New Mexico and Lea County and all of the state are really positioned to be not only a leader in more of our traditional energies but also in the opportunities to come forth within the renewable sector to bring not only energy to New Mexico, but ultimately to power the world,” Currier said.
To do that, Currier said the state also must focus on transmission lines and other infrastructure to move and store the energy once it is generated.
“One of the things that’s really exciting for us is that as we work with these companies to bring in more energy options to our state, as well as to increase our environmental concerns and the opportunities that we have to build on there, some of our biggest issues of course are our infrastructure making sure that we can not only harness the energy here but get the energy sources out,” she said.
Myra Pancrazio, executive director of the Estancia Valley Economic Development Association pointed to renewable energy projects throughout northern New Mexico – a completed project in Encino with a capacity of 298 megawatts and the nearby La Joya wind farm with 306 MW capacity along with the a multi-county project by Pattern Energy for 4,000 MW in Guadalupe, Lincoln and Torrance counties.
But none of that power could reach the market, Pancrazio said, without the proper infrastructure.
“We’re also working on transition lines,” she said. “It doesn’t do us any good to do renewable energy if you can’t get it where it needs to go.”
Wind and solar provide opportunities for rural New Mexico
Just south of Albuquerque, the village of Los Lunas got onboard with renewables through a partnership with Facebook on a data center that uses mostly renewable energy via a 200 acre solar farm, said Los Lunas Economic Development Manager Ralph Mims.
He said the village’s recycling center also operates on 100 percent renewable energy, and that the region has large portions of vacant land ideal for solar or wind energy development.
“Valencia County is poised for future solar and wind energy projects,” Mims said. “Valencia County on a whole promotes continued economic growth and can create future renewable energy, wind jobs, clean energy and long-term skilled direct and indirect employment for its residents in the renewable energy field.”
Growing development in the renewable sector around the state could increase jobs and keep New Mexico’s youth in the state to follow careers in such fields, said Mike Espiritu of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation.
He said partnerships with universities to create certification programs such as with ENMU Roswell should also be embraced for their ability to provide training to those looking to pursue careers in renewable energy.
“It’s all about growing our communities and how we create the jobs and create opportunity for people. With the plans in place by our energy providers already to grow the renewable energy sector, I see a lot of good project happening as a result,” Espiritu said.
“We know construction jobs, whether they’re solar or wind are good, but sustainment of the jobs is really important in my mind.”
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