Lujan Grisham highlights energy transition efforts during Electrify NM conference

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham boasted about New Mexico’s progress in transitioning to cleaner energy sources during the inaugural Electrify New Mexico conference on Thursday in Albuquerque.  The conference, held at the Sid Cutter Pilot’s Pavilion at the Balloon Fiesta Park, touched on topics ranging from creating more environmentally friendly buildings to expanding solar and increasing […]

Lujan Grisham highlights energy transition efforts during Electrify NM conference

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham boasted about New Mexico’s progress in transitioning to cleaner energy sources during the inaugural Electrify New Mexico conference on Thursday in Albuquerque. 

The conference, held at the Sid Cutter Pilot’s Pavilion at the Balloon Fiesta Park, touched on topics ranging from creating more environmentally friendly buildings to expanding solar and increasing adoption of electric vehicles.

“We are in the epicenter of the United States for every clean energy opportunity,” Lujan Grisham said.

The opportunities for clean energy include solar, wind and geothermal.

Dylan Connelly with Affordable Solar said that New Mexico is the number one location for solar. He said that New Mexico has an advantage compared to its neighbor, Arizona, because it is not as hot. The cooler temperatures allow for more optimum solar electricity generation.

At the same time, Karen Paramanandam, the marketing manager of Unirac Inc., said that as of 2022 New Mexico ranked 12th in the nation for renewable energy. Furthermore, she said only 5 percent of the state’s energy came from solar.

That means there is a lot of room for growth, she said, adding that solar represents a massive opportunity for the state.

Paramanandam later said New Mexico ranks fifth in the nation for jobs in renewable energy.

She then spoke about how people outside of the state often associate New Mexico with the television show “Breaking Bad.” She said that she would like to see New Mexico be known for renewable energy instead.

“I would love to see New Mexico as number one (for renewable energy jobs). Number five is awesome,” she said.

Lujan Grisham said the achievements that New Mexico has made in the energy transition are purposeful and come as a result of policy decisions, including the Energy Transition Act that put most of the electric utilities in the state on the path to zero emissions.

These efforts also include tax incentives that make it easier for New Mexicans to reduce their carbon footprint. That includes more than $90 million in refundable tax credits for renewable energy.

“I’m going to tell you that that is a remarkable investment,” she said. “It means that people everywhere in New Mexico can invest in our own solar and our own efforts and our own electric vehicles.”

At the same time, the governor acknowledged that there are still major challenges ahead, though she highlighted federal funding that may help smooth the road.

New Mexico has received federal funding to support deployment of fast electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

She also highlighted the Clean Transportation Fuel Standards that passed the legislature during this year’s legislative session. The governor signed the bill into law about a month ago. The Clean Transportation Fuel Standards aims to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels like gasoline and diesel. 

Lujan Grisham said this allows people to reduce emissions without having to change the type of engine in their vehicle.

Additionally, the governor highlighted efforts from the electric utility sector, including grid modernization and community solar.

Prior to the governor speaking, the conference included a recorded video statement from U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat representing New Mexico.

Heinrich said that in the future most people will power their cars and heat and cool their houses using electricity rather than fossil fuels. In addition to helping the state and country achieve climate goals, Heinrich said this transition will lead to lower energy costs for New Mexico families.

Furthermore, Heinrich said the energy transition represents a once in a generation opportunity to grow the middle class by creating jobs, but that requires investing in training initiatives and career technical education. He highlighted the new America Climate Corps as another way of training up the workers needed for the energy transition.

“These are careers that New Mexicans can build their families around,” he said.

Heinrich said he is working in the U.S. Senate to advance legislation that would expand access to apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.

Later in the conference, state Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, spoke about electrification from the legislative perspective.

Stewart, who has spent decades in the state legislature, highlighted some of the accomplishments that have been made during her tenure.

She started with renewable portfolio standards—the amount of electricity that regulated utilities must receive from renewable sources. Stewart first led efforts to institute renewable portfolio standards back in 2007. She was later instrumental in getting the Energy Transition Act passed which created the standards that are currently in place.

Stewart said New Mexico was among the first states to adopt clean car standards, but those were repealed under the previous governor. New Mexico recently adopted clean car standards once again that require manufacturers to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles delivered to New Mexico for sale. Stewart herself owns a plug-in hybrid vehicle but says she is looking to buy a used electric vehicle.

“There’s hardly any used EVs in New Mexico. These clean car standards are going to change that,” she said.

She then spoke about tax credits, including the $30 million in tax credits for solar. She said the state first passed a tax credit to help people install solar panels in 2006. That expired in 2016 and legislators tried to bring it back multiple times before it finally passed and was signed into law this year.

She also praised the community energy efficiency development block grant that helps with energy efficiency in houses in rural areas.

“Efficiency is really low-hanging fruit. We should be doing it everywhere,” she said, adding that they hope to expand it.

Stewart spoke about the challenges surrounding passing the clean fuels transportation standards, which took years to get through the legislature. She said that legislation has spurred economic growth and there are now 28 companies coming to the state to help clean up fuels. 

“It’s stunning how many people want to do this,” she said.

She then spoke about a just transition and how the Energy Transition Act provided $20 million for apprenticeship programs and retraining. She said most bills that have to do with energy now include equity language and that the sustainable economy task force is now beginning to ramp up. 

“We’re hoping that we continue to work in that transition,” she said.

Finally, Stewart said the state put $50 million into expanding apprenticeship programs.

“We have money, we have a climate emergency on our hands and we have a room full of people who know what they’re doing,” Stewart said. “So I believe we are a leader and that we’re going to be even better in the future.”

Stewart said the legislature is not done. Her office is doing a study on climate and what needs to be done next.

“We’re going to have bills for January,” she said.

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