Renewable energy, including solar, is outpacing nuclear energy in New Mexico and nationally, according to two new government reports. The Energy Information Administration’s Monthly Energy Review revealed that in the first half of 2016, domestic renewable energy production was 25 percent greater than nuclear power production. A separate report, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said that renewable energy generating capacity is now double that of nuclear.
Sanders Moore, state director at Environment New Mexico, said the state is ranked 13th in the country for solar generating capacity—a ranking she finds disappointing. “Other states are taking advantage of solar energy a lot faster than New Mexico,” Moore said. “Massachusetts, New Jersey and North Carolina all get more solar energy than we do. For the second-sunniest state in the country, we should be doing a lot better.”
New Mexico doesn’t have any nuclear plants, but it does import some nuclear power. Moore said the state is also the 12th-windiest in the nation and has great wind-power potential. Wind is the fastest growing source of electric generation in New Mexico, followed by natural gas and solar, according to the Energy Industry Association. The state is home to a dozen utility-scale wind farms. Foundations were recently poured for El Cabo Wind Farm, 140 turbines that will span nearly 90 square miles of private property and state trust land southeast of Albuquerque.
Moore said that with the right policies in place, New Mexico could capitalize on its abundant sun and wind resources and generate 14,000 times more power than residents use, thus becoming a net exporter of energy. “Another benefit of renewable energy is it creates a lot of jobs,” she said. “We have about 2,000 people employed directly by the solar industry across the state of New Mexico and about 1,000 people employed in the wind industry.”
The state’s renewable industry could benefit from increased energy storage capabilities. Industry experts say large-scale storage is on the way. The government’s definition of renewables in energy production includes biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind. Conservation groups such as Environment New Mexico would like to see the state raise its renewable portfolio standard and work toward a goal of getting 100 percent of its energy from in-state, renewable sources.