Inside the New Mexico State Land Office, current Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sits at a dark wood desk ringed with a painting of the Rio Grande Gorge, a saddle, and a pair of leather chaps pinned on the wall, homages to a lifetime spent on cattle ranches. But it’s the decor outside that tends to draw more attention: Dunn installed a model pump jack in front of the State Land Office building on Old Santa Fe Trail. Its bobbing head —powered by a solar panel — is a familiar sight in oil country. From that desk, he manages the state’s land trust: 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate. It’s his job to maximize revenue from those acres through leases for businesses, grazing and rights-of-way, royalties from mining potash, coal, salt and caliche, and above all, fossil fuels, which accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office.
This week, the Trump administration announced it was imposing new tariffs on imported solar panels and modules—a move that will hit installation companies and consumers alike. But in the New Mexico State Legislature a trio of Democratic state representatives wants to give solar development in New Mexico a boost. House Bill 87 would give people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000. If passed, the bill would authorize the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to pay out up to $5 million in tax credits for the year. The bill is sponsored by Reps.
Last June, Gov. Susana Martinez joined incident commanders and U.S. Forest Service officials to update local residents on yet another forest fire. She had already declared a state of emergency and called in the state National Guard for the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque. Since taking office five years earlier, Martinez had presided over similar meetings across New Mexico while various fires and millions of acres of forest burned. With global warming, the number and size of fires has increased and fire season has lengthened by about two months in the western United States. Even a 2005 report prepared by the state warned that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable to “catastrophic” wildfires and massive diebacks.
This week, the Solar Foundation released its 2016 job census. Nationally, solar was the top source of newly-installed energy capacity. Environment New Mexico Executive Director Sanders Moore pointed out that at the end of last year, there were nearly 3,000 New Mexicans working in the solar industry. Women hold just under half those jobs, 33 percent of the workers are Latino or Hispanic, and almost 9 percent are veterans. Unlike many other economic indicators, New Mexico is ahead of the curve when it comes to job growth in solar.
Over the last decade, state tax credits for renewable energy production have helped to create an industry in New Mexico, generating more than 11,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in economic activity, according to a new study. About 60 wind and solar facilities have been built, it says. The study of the tax credits, which were enacted in 2003 and have cost $120 million, was released as the Legislature considers extending the credits. They are now set to expire in 2018. “Taxpayers are getting a huge return on their investments in clean energy — new jobs, new investments, new economic activity — while reaping the additional environmental benefits that come from clean energy,” said Palmer Schoening, a spokesman for Family Businesses for Affordable Energy.
A bill aimed at classifying nuclear power as a renewable energy source in New Mexico stalled Thursday afternoon in committee on a tie vote. House Bill 406, sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, would have amended the state’s Renewable Energy Act, which requires energy companies provide a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources. Brown told the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee she didn’t know of any definite plans to bring nuclear power plants to the state, but that she wanted to broaden the options for a “baseload power” to replace coal or gas. Currently, Brown argued, wind and solar energy can only serve as “intermittent” power. “Unless we can get the wind to blow 24 hours a day and the sun to shine day and night, we’re still going to have those intermittent sources,” Brown said.
An Eddy County state representative wants to remove three words from the New Mexico Renewable Energy Act. That slight change would classify nuclear energy as a source of renewable energy. Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown, an attorney, introduced HB 406, which is scheduled for the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. The Renewable Energy Act requires public utilities, like PNM and Xcel Energy to provide customers with a certain amount of electricity generated from renewable sources. Currently, renewable sources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, certain hydropower facilities and fuel cells that don’t rely on fossil fuels.
New Mexico received a much-needed jolt of good news in an otherwise bleak economic situation when Facebook announced Wednesday they would build a data center in Los Lunas. The news, announced by Facebook and Gov. Susana Martinez, received praise from just about every politician in New Mexico. In the announcement, Martinez said she met with Facebook executives in August of last year. “When we first sat down with Facebook executives 13 months ago, we weren’t even on their radar. But we made a strong case and laid out how competitive we have become,” Martinez said in a statement.
A study by an environmental group says fossil fuel industry interests are aiming at taking down the growing solar energy industry. The local branch of the group says New Mexico has been resistant to these attempts. Environment America released a study on Tuesday looking at the way these groups attempt to head off solar industry. The study placed blame at the feet of organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a controversial conservative group that allows close ties between corporate interests and legislators. While New Mexico is not specifically mentioned in the report, outside of a reference in the footnotes, Environment New Mexico sees this as a local issue.
Gov. Susana Martinez unveiled a state energy plan on Monday morning at the Southeastern New Mexico Energy Summit in Carlsbad. Martinez’s office called the plan the first such comprehensive policy for New Mexico in 25 years and the plan is predicated on energy abundance. The plan is available on the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department website. “New Mexico is one of the most energy-rich and energy-diverse states in the nation, and we have an excellent opportunity to utilize this position to grow our economy and create more jobs,” Martinez said in a statement. “Improving our energy infrastructure, responsibly developing and producing energy of all types, and better preparing our workforce for the needs of our energy sector are all critical components not only of a strong economic future, but of helping lead America to energy independence.”