By Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus (New Mexico)
February 17, 2021
As lawmakers in Santa Fe pushed numerous bills related to renewable energy and the state’s transition away from a reliance on fossil fuels, leaders in the wind and solar power industries urged legislators to maintain a regulatory environment they said was ideal for continued expansion in the Land of Enchantment.
In 2019, the Legislature passed the Energy Transition Act (ETA) which was signed into law to establish numerous benchmarks toward New Mexico’s goal of 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045.
The state also recently expanded its renewable energy portfolio to require increased use of sources of energy perceived to be cleaner and less environmentally impactful like wind and solar.
In response, several major wind and solar developments were established in New Mexico in recent years by some of the state’s major utility providers.
Renewable energy advocacy group Powering New Mexico reported wind energy supports 3,000 jobs in New Mexico and $12 million in annual lease payments along with $8 million in tax revenue while about $3.4 billion in capital investments from the sector was made in New Mexico.
The group reported the solar power sector accounted for about 2,000 jobs and represented $2.2 billion in investments in New Mexico which Powering New Mexico expected to double in the next five years.
During a Wednesday panel discussion hosted by Power New Mexico, Pattern Energy director of New Mexico Project Development Jeremy Turner said the company – one of the state’s biggest renewable energy developers – was planning to almost double its 10,000 megawatts of worldwide capacity most via projects in New Mexico.
But he said in order for the renewable industries to continue to succeed in New Mexico and provide an economic driver and energy source alongside oil and gas, elected officials should maintain the regulatory environment Turner said was attractive to developers.
“Our leaders have done an extremely good job. As long as they keep it going, we anticipate more projects will be going up,” he said. “This is not an opportunity to pit renewables against oil and gas. It’s a way to have a complimentary industry.”
Panelist and former member of the Public Regulation Commission Doug Howe said New Mexico showed strong potential for the renewable sectors through its solar and wind resources and could see further expansion on the eastern side of the state.
He said such development would not only support the needs of New Mexicans but could be exported to other states bringing in added revenue that could diversify New Mexico’s economy.
Heavily reliant on oil and gas for billions in revenue, New Mexico recently saw dramatic budget shortfalls when the fossil fuel markets plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel and business restrictions.
“Developing New Mexico resources is not just for its own needs but for the rest of the west. To help diversify the state’s economy away from the slowly declining oil and gas industry, we need to embrace these renewable energy resources,” Howe said. “There’s a lot happening, and we need to have New Mexico at that table.”
The New Mexico State Land Office’s Office of Renewable Energy reported six active solar leases for a capacity of 221 megawatts on State Trust land, and 27 pending applications which would add another 2,9177 megawatts.
For wind projects, the State Land Office reported nine active leases with 345 megawatts of capacity and 19 lease applications to add 1,835 megawatts.
Rikki Seguin executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a renewable energy trade organization operating in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, said the potential growth of renewables in New Mexico is driven by policy such as the ETA that could lead to more utilities looking to buy renewable power.
“The starting point is are there buyers of renewable energy. The answer is yes,” she said. “The opportunity for renewable energy goes well beyond what we are going to need to comply with the ETA. That is an economic tool for our state and a way for us to diversify our economy.”
John Tysseling, with consulting firm Moss Adams working in the renewable sectors said it was unlikely renewables would ever completely replace fossil fuels in New Mexico, but could be used as a new source of energy to diversify the state’s economy and its power supply.
“The history of oil and gas development in New Mexico is a crowning achievement for economic development and jobs. There is no single replacement resource that can change that fossil fuel future,” he said.
“We have every reason to believe that we will continue to benefit for years and years to come from oil and gas development. All we can assert now is there is a very bright future for renewables in NM. It’s simply a new future.”