LC Bulletin: Sowing seeds to create new energy jobs

June 11, 2010. Retrieved online June 15, 2010 from Gabriel Vasquez, Las Cruces Bulletin

Green industries have an explosive growth potential

Researching and developing new, renewable sources of energy doesn’t make much sense, or cents, if the job market doesn’t rival that of the oil and gas industry.

Energy pioneers in the state and in the U.S. are working diligently to make sure that job creation is an integral part in developing a new, green economy.

“What can New Mexico do to take advantage of its raw materials and create jobs? I’ve been in New Mexico for two years trying to figure it out,” said venture capitalist David Blivin, founder and managing director of the Cottonwood Technology Group.

Blivin, along with other in- and out-of-state investors, are waiting for the chance to capitalize on the clean energy industry, he said.

“I think we are all painfully aware that oil and gas revenue, as a percentage of (the state) budget, places the state at risk,” he said. “What I did was pull together a council of leadership from the state – predominantly from five research centers to figure out a plan.”

Blivin is working with researchers at New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico Tech and Los Alamos National Laboratory, along with business leaders and policy-makers, to “categorize” the intellectual capital of the state to create a knowledge bank for the green industry.

“New Mexico has a long suit in energy, it’s no surprise to anybody,” he said. “And where are the national and international (economic development) opportunities? It’s in energy. If there has even been a time in New Mexico’s history to stand up and be counted, it’s today.”

The state investment council should go as far as allocating a significant part of its permanent funds – about $14 billion – into clean energy research and development, Blivin said.

“Other states are making big bucks for their economic future,” he said. “They’re not all in energy, but they’re all serious. How do we compete with that?”

Blivin suggested developing a marketing plan for the state that leverages its most plentiful natural resource, the sun, and pouring a significant investment into showcasing the state’s achievements and promoting renewable technology to the world.

“We’re already making a substantial investment for energy and the sun, we’re just not promoting it that way. Most of these states are investing in the billion dollar range,” he said. “We must commit to a number in that range to be taken seriously. The film industry has addressed many of the (issues) of workforce development and public policy. Now we need to focus additionally in the area of technology commercialization.”

Reducing the reliance on funding from federal government and oil and gas revenues would create additional jobs in New Mexico, Blivin said.

“That will result in many more small businesses starting, and small-business growth is really the source of all net job growth,” he said.

A nuclear solution

District 55 state Rep. John Heaton is putting his money on nuclear and geothermal energy.

“If we look at even the first step of (developing) nuclear power, we see that we have a great deal of uranium in New Mexico,” he said.“In the nuclear power arena, we have tremendous opportunity for growth and job development, power plants, uranium mining and uranium enrichment.”

A recently dedicated uranium enrichment plant in Eunice, N.M., in the northwest part of the state, will create more than 500 jobs each year once fully operational, Heaton said.

The facility, to be operated by Urenco, will have the capacity of processing an annual 5.7 million separative work units (SWU), the measure in which U235 uranium is separated from U238. A large nuclear power station with a net power generating capability of 1,300 megawatts requires about 25 tons of enriched SWU.

“About 1,200 jobs are created in just the construction phase and in the mining and operation phase you’ll see around 8,000 jobs,” he said. “Those are significant jobs for northwestern New Mexico, which is really in trouble with their economy, much more so than here in the south.”

Read the Las Cruces Bulletin article.

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