A bill to create a renewable energy office in the New Mexico State Land Office passed the state House of Representatives on a 48-19 vote on Friday.
HB 95 is sponsored by Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque.
The number of renewable energy projects on state lands have increased substantially under State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard. Some people are concerned that once Garcia Richard leaves office, a future commissioner could choose to reduce or end the focus on wind and solar projects. HB 95 would ensure that renewable energy development continues on state trust lands in the future.
The bill is simple and includes one paragraph, which reads: “The commissioner shall establish and maintain a renewable energy office to advance the production and development of renewable energy.”
Garcia Richard has established such an office in the State Land Office, but that could change under a new Land Commissioner. In Fiscal Year 2022, the Office of Renewable Energy generated $12 million through leasing of state trust land for renewable energy projects. The office currently has 39 active leases and 33 lease applications under review.
Rep. Randall Pettigrew, R-Lovington, questioned the need for such an office, arguing that there is not a specific office for oil and gas or agriculture and that the State Land Office currently employs people focused on renewable energy.
“If we’re able to do it, we already have the funded positions, they’re already in play, they’re already doing their job,” Pettigrew said.
He asked if it is important to do it for renewables, “where’s the legislation for ag?”
Lujan responded that the purpose of the bill is to ensure a functional renewable energy office in the future and, upon further questioning, she pointed to the Agriculture Leasing Office as an example of an office within the State Land Office that is focused on agriculture.
HB 95 now heads to the Senate.