LC Bulletin: Conference examines NM energy outlook

November 1, 2013. Retrieved online November 4, 2013 from Alta LeCompte , Las Cruces Bulletin

Peach: Renewables to grow, remain small

[Excerpts below reprinted with permission: Read the complete Las Cruces Bulletin article]

Renewables have a promising future in New Mexico, economist and self-described optimist Jim Peach told the third annual New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce Renewable Energy and Clean Technology Conference Friday, Oct. 25, at the Ramada Palms de Las Cruces.

“We need a sector in New Mexico to get us out of this horrible recession. Maybe you can be it,” he said.

Peach, who is Regents Professor of Economics at New Mexico State University, said the state recorded a 6.3 percent rise in green jobs in 2010-11, while overall employment failed to increase.

“You’re in a growth industry, and there’s very few out there,” he said.

He called on the audience to get the word out about renewables through education and marketing.

From the standpoint of job creation, wind energy production is more effective than solar, Peach said.

“There are 48,000 solar panels out on the West Mesa. What don’t you see out there? People.

“Windmills are mechanical and every now and then you have to have somebody do some work on them. If you’re looking for long-term employment gains, look to wind, not solar.”

Peach, who started studying the energy sector before solar and wind became part of the energy mix discussion, cautioned not to overestimate the potential of renewables.

Multiple challenges face renewables

The recession that started in December 2007 “conditions everything, including investment in renewables,” Peach said.

Commenting on the state of the state economy, he said: “Anyone interested in renewables ought to worry about construction, because most of that is in new construction.”

He said construction is the weakest sector in New Mexico, with employment down 18.5 percent.

As the global technological revolution continues, renewables will have to be cost competitive with fossil fuels, Peach said.

Speakers cite successes, limits

Lisa LaRocque, the new City of Las Cruces sustainability officer, detailed efficiencies achieved in the 100 buildings owned by the city, including an expected $25,000-$28,000 annual savings from the new photovoltaic array at city hall.

Ken Hughes, of the New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural resources Department, was bullish on the prospect of a cohesive energy policy for New Mexico.

“A lot of states are now doing energy plans that focus on efficiency and the use of renewables,” he said.

Advocate calls for better policies

Sarah Cotrell Propst of Interwest Energy Alliance, a six-state nonprofit organization representing renewable energy developers and advocacy groups, said the solar industry is making “impressive strides” in the region.

New Mexico ranks 12th in the nation in percentage of electricity supplied by wind, she said, with 11 projects online. “New Mexico is doing well,” she said. “But some other states are booming.”

Industry spokesman touts balance

Gerard Ortiz of the energy production and distribution company PNM outlined what he sees as the limits of renewables.

“Engineers care about two things, capacity and production,” he said. “Every moment they have to perfectly balance available electricity with consumer demand.

He said PNM is investing in both solar and wind. PNM’s current production is 62 percent from coal and 22 percent from nuclear.

“The bottom line is, there is certainly a place in the utilities’ portfolio for renewable resources.”

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