November 2012

Clearing the Air Around Clean Energy


Allan Oliver


Probably the best laugh line in the third and final presidential debate came when President Obama joked about “way too many commercials.” What’s less humorous is that this daily saturation of attack ads has left objectivity as its first casualty, especially in the area of energy. So it’s time to clear the air around clean energy in New Mexico.


Myth: The closure of Schott spells the end of the solar sector in New Mexico


Not even close. While intense competition for module sales and resulting low prices contributed to Schott’s decision to exit the soar market, other NM manufacturers are thriving as a result of consumer demand for solar. DPW, Array Technologies, UNIRAC and Sacred Power are each experiencing significant revenue and job growth, despite NM’s overall economic downturn. Moreover McCune Solar Works has already announced plans to resume production at the former Schott facility.


Myth: Clean energy is no longer popular with the public


Not true. According to a 2012 bi-partisan “State of the Rockies” poll, New Mexicans support increasing the amount of energy we get from renewable sources by a wide margin. Seventy-one percent of New Mexican voters support the goal of getting 20 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. Sixty-six percent think the highest priority for meeting America’s energy needs should be reducing our need for more coal, oil and gas by expanding our use of clean, renewable energy that can be generated in the US.


Myth: Clean Energy has not led to job creation in New Mexico


According to a 2011 NMSU study there are approximately 35,800 clean-economy jobs in NM (5.9 percent of the workforce)—52 percent in energy efficiency, 12 percent in clean manufacturing, 15 percent in renewable energy and 21 percent in research and development. By contrast, the Energy Information Administration estimates1263 direct jobs in the coal sector. Clean economy jobs also tend to pay better, at approximately $22 per hour, versus the state average of $19 per hour.


Moreover, future development of renewable energy transmission offers significant new job creation potential. According to an Albuquerque Journal story, “The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado estimates that NM has enough wind energy potential to generate about 75 times more electricity than the state needs. A recent analysis by Los Alamos National Laboratory also projects that investments in 5,200 megawatts of new transmission capacity could create nearly 25,000 temporary and permanent jobs in NM over 20 years as construction and operation of new transmission projects and wind and solar plants move forward.”


Myth: New Mexico is far behind other states on Clean Energy


The CleanEdge State Clean Energy Index ranks NM eighth in the nation. NM now has over 750MW of installed wind energy generation and over 122MW of installed solar energy generation and is ranked fourth in the nation for its solar energy production. With the research and development from Sandia and Los Alamos National labs and state universities in the area of photovoltaics, geothermal, biofuels and smart grid technologies, NM is a leader in clean energy research. NM also has more than 27,000 MW of developable solar, wind and geothermal energy potential—the highest of any state in the West.


Myth: Clean Energy is heavily subsidized


Subsidies are available for clean energy sources like wind and solar, but much less than traditional fossil fuels. A recent study by DBL investors’ Nancy Pfund looked at the history of US federal energy subsidies and found that the annual federal support for oil, gas and nuclear has averaged 22 times the amount of subsidies available to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.


Myth: The US Market for solar and wind is weak, and at risk.


False. The Solar US market has grown 78 percent since 2006 and has roughly 4000 MW of cumulative MW installed. In August, wind energy reached the landmark of 50 gigawatts (GW) of electricity in America—enough to power 13 million homes and the equivalent of 44 coal-fired power plants.


And True. However, continued growth is at risk because the US Congress has not renewed the Wind Production Tax Credit, which expires this year, despite bipartisan support. According to the American Wind Energy Association, renewal of the Production Tax Credit is estimated to preserve 37,000 jobs nationally. Moreover, the continued reduction of renewable energy credit payments for solar electric generation slows the growth of rooftop solar in NM.


Myth: The clean energy sector is to blame for the shutdown of coal plants


False. More than any other factor, cheap natural gas is to blame for the significant reduction in the demand for coal.


Moreover, utilities across the US are recognizing that construction of large new coal-fired power plants is a high-risk and expensive investment. A recent study by former Colorado Public Utility Commissioner Ron Binz and CERES ranked every energy source in terms of various risk factors (construction cost, fuel and operation cost, new regulation, water constraints, carbon price, capital shock and planning risk), and coal ranks as the second most risky new investment after nuclear.


Once the silly season passes, I hope our state can get back to serious discussions about how best to rebuild our economy. With the only shrinking economy in the West, we need to recognize that we can create new jobs by aggressively pursuing clean technologies like smart grid and biofuels by building our solar and wind generation and by exporting our renewable energy resources across America.



Allan Oliver is CEO of the NM Green Chamber of Commerce. He served as the NM Economic Development Department’s Secretary, overseeing the Office of International Trade, the Office of Science and Technology, and was also Gov. Richardson’s deputy communications director and policy advisor.




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