At a meeting of economic development associations statewide on how to expand renewable energy development, the executive director of Powering New Mexico asked the director of the Estancia Valley Economic Development Association, “How do we replicate your success?”

“One bright spot in a recent report spoke to the fact that both Torrance and Roosevelt counties in particular, because of the construction projects going on the wind projects in those counties, are seeing increases in their gross receipts for this year,” said Jessie Hunt, executive director of Powering New Mexico. “”I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about your experience with that and how you think we can continue to replicate that around the state.”

Torrance County and the surrounding area, working with EVEDA, have brought two solar and two wind projects to the area, while another wind project is in construction and another will start next year, Pancrazio said. She said it will produce 4,700 megawatts of renewable power when completed.

Hunt said the total solar investment in the state so far is $2 million, and through 2019 there has been $3.4 billion in capital investments for wind energy, and annual state and local tax payments are $8 million.

In 2007, New Mexico passed a renewable portfolio standard that required utilities to generate 20% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020, Hunt said.

Powering New Mexico is holding panels like this one to reach the state’s targets. The target rises to 50% renewable energy by 2030, 80% by 2040, and 100% of its electricity from zero carbon resources by 2045. It’s an ambitious goal, Hunt said.

Myra Pancrazio, executive director of EVEDA, said when she first started her job, New Mexicans didn’t have any idea how to meet with big name energy developers.

“When you have big developers coming in from places like Spain, Italy, wherever, [with] deep pockets, we were not in a position in New Mexico to take advantage of that money,” she said. “So we had to put the policies and the procedures together very, very quick, and I think over time, over the last 22 years, slowly our policies and procedures in New Mexico and at our local levels have gotten better—but I think there’s still a lot more work to do.”

Pancrazio said the best advice is to “be ready” when opportunities come knocking. “When the project is ready and [opportunities] come to you,” she said, “you have to know what you’re talking about as an economic developer, and you have to open the doors to your county officials very quickly.”

Pancrazio said she works to make sure people in her area are on the same page to get deals through quickly, so potential developers don’t back out due to the process taking too long.

“What we could do to continue creating and building renewable energy projects is to start at the ground level and make sure your economic development organizations and your elected officials are educated and know how to do this,” Pancrazio said.

Ralph Mims, the Economic Development Manager for the Village of Los Lunas, said people also need to understand the importance of renewable energy.

“One of the main issues is to educate people on the importance of renewable energy,” he said. “Our local politicians, people in the community that own land, [so they can] see what the advantages are of having renewable energy and the cost savings of having renewable energy in your community.”

Mims said enticing young people to stay in New Mexico for renewable energy jobs plays a big factor in the potential success of renewable energy in the state. A lot of young people leave because of low pay and no opportunities, he said.

Missi Currier, President and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County, said that in Hobbs, the Career Technical Education High School is being built, which will introduce students to trades.

“The CTE school will be adaptable,” she said. “Nine months ago, we had a lot of focus on oil and gas, which everybody knows. As of right now, oil and gas has shifted. So, do we need to make a shift in the curriculum? That’s what the CTE school is going to allow us to do, as well as working with our junior colleges to decrease that brain drain and ensure our students not only stay here, and if they do go away, that’s great, but come back.”

Currier also said that while economic developers need to have everything together at the local level, they also need to be aware of what is going on at the state level as well.

“A lot of times we hear, ‘We can’t compare ourselves to Texas or Colorado or Arizona and our neighboring states,’” she said. “While we shouldn’t always compare ourselves, we do need to be very cognizant of what those states are doing so that we can ensure that we can compete with the incentives and other opportunities that those states are providing. Whether this approach is local to the state level, or whether it’s state to local, or it’s combination of all of those in between—it’s definitely got to be a working relationship at all levels to ensure we attract the kinds of businesses and the kinds of economic opportunities to the region that will be the most important to us going forward.”

According to Powering New Mexico, 20% of in-state electricity comes from wind power, with wind energy providing 3,000 jobs.

Wind power has also created $12 million in annual land and lease payments, and $8 million in tax revenue for state and local governments.

Felecia Pohl
Felecia Pohl