Wind and Solar Industries Hit Hard by Coronavirus

New Mexico went blue for the elections. Now it is time to focus on coloring the state green. Transitioning from fossil fuels could be a cakewalk if lawmakers don’t drag their heels on any additional support needed. With all the clean renewable energy available in the state just waiting to be tapped, it has what it needs for the conversion from dirty to clean energy. That said, the wind and solar industries have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and will need real support from the state just to survive the hardball thrown at them.

The Energy Transition Act (ETA) law, passed in March 2019 setting renewable energy standards and higher energy efficiency savings targets for the state, has put New Mexico on a path toward leading the nation in renewable energy. The bill doubles renewable energy use in the state by 2025, requires 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent carbon- free electricity generation by 2045. Rural electric cooperatives have until 2050 to reach 100 percent. New Mexico’s regulatory and financial policies favor renewable energy. These include net metering, solar easements, interconnection standards and financial incentives.

Projections by the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) concluded that New Mexico’s ETA could create as many as 8,830 clean energy jobs and drive over $4.6 billion in investments in the local clean energy economy by 2030. It could also lower monthly energy bills through increased energy efficiency, reduce harmful air pollution from the state’s power plants, reduce New Mexico’s carbon footprint and help avoid the construction of expensive and unnecessary new gas plants.

Local Resources

The Land of Enchantment is blessed with blue skies with abundant sunshine for solar technologies and high plains on the eastern half of the state with significant wind energy potential. The state is in the top three in the nation with the best solar energy resources. In 2018 solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities provided 4 percent of the state’s generation, and small-scale, customer-sited solar PV resources supplied about 1 percent.

According to the New Mexico state profile and energy estimates of the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical agency of the Department of Energy (DOE),  wind energy contributed almost 19 percent of New Mexico’s electricity generation in 2018. The state had more than 2,000 megawatts of installed electricity generating capacity from more than 1,100 wind turbines as of late 2019.  A 522-megawatt wind farm in eastern New Mexico is expected to be operational in late 2020, making it one of the largest wind farms in the state.

Beyond solar and wind, New Mexico has the nation’s sixth-largest geothermal potential located primarily in the north-central and southwestern parts of the state. Geothermal energy is used for space heating, district heating and in spas. It is also used for greenhouse agriculture and for aquaculture. New Mexico put a utility-scale geothermal power plant online in December 2013 with a 4-megawatt power plant located in southwestern New Mexico. In 2018 a new generating unit was added that increased the plant’s capacity to about 19 megawatts.

A minor contributor to New Mexico’s net generation is biomass. However, more than 6 percent of households use wood heat. The state has two wood pellet manufacturing plants and a third pellet plant in development that produces pellets from sawmill waste and other wood by-products for heating and power generation.

The National Solar Thermal Testing Facility (NSTTF) is headquartered in Albuquerque and operated by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It is home to a thermal power plant that has been providing the who, what, where, when and why of experimental engineering data for the design, construction and operation of components and systems in proposed solar thermal electrical plants planned for large-scale power generation. It is the only test facility of its type located in the United States.

Help is Needed

What this all means for the Land of Enchantment is that, with continued support from lawmakers to make it happen, New Mexico is in a very unique position to quickly transition from dependence on fossil fuels for electricity to leading the nation in a new clean energy economy. As New Mexico battles it out with the oil and gas industries over climate concerns and methane emissions in the state, it can’t forget that clean energy developers are in need of its help.

Currently, the solar industry in New Mexico supports over 2,500 jobs, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. As a direct result of the pandemic, the renewable energy sector has lost over 620,000 jobs across the nation.

The House Democrats tried tossing a lifeline as part of a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package this summer by extending federal tax credits for the solar and wind industries. Wind and solar energy produce about 9 percent of the nation’s electricity The legislation Democrats proposed would give a much-needed boost by offering more flexibility and time to take advantage of tax incentives to wind and solar developers.

Tom Kiernan, head of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement, “Providing a direct payment for the credits is especially crucial as the wind industry works to withstand the enormous challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Also included in the proposed legislation was $70 billion for developing a charging network for electric vehicles, improving the energy efficiency of buildings and updating the electric grid to accommodate more renewable energy. So far the lifeline the Democrats extended appears to have drowned when it got to the Senate.

With the wind, solar, geothermal, biomass potential located in New Mexico, along with the only tested solar thermal electrical plant in the nation, the state is positioned well to transition off of fossil fuels and look toward a brighter future in greener energy. [ ]