Turns out New Mexico, despite the recession, is a grand place to be involved in the solar industry. Aside from 310 days of sunny weather a year and broad public support, New Mexico sports a specialized workforce and proximity to national labs and university resources. A recent study conducted by the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) found exceptional growth potential in the solar industry sector, particularly in Albuquerque. Bernalillo County already has an interconnected industrial ‘cluster’ of solar services. The state’s small but well-trained solar-technician workforce is growing, and both UNM and CNM offer programs to train students in renewable-energy technologies. Sixty-six percent of voters want to encourage the use of solar power, and 71 percent believe that renewable energy can create more jobs in New Mexico. There are a number of state incentives that bolster the industry, like various tax credits or the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which demands that a certain slowly rising percentage of energy provided by utilities come from a clean energy-generated source. New Mexico already ranks fourth nationally for solar energy production, at 166.9 megawatts/year due to several large commercial solar photovoltaic installations and increasingly large numbers of rooftop solar on private homes.
The industry is not without its challenges, however. The physical isolation of New Mexico puts a strain on the transportation of materials and the transmission of generated energy. Additionally, although the international accounting firm Ernst and Young ranked New Mexico in the top five states for solar investment, New Mexico is not overflowing with eager investors.
The MRCOG study was the result of local leaders and key stakeholders from the region partnering to propose developing a solar-energy cluster map in order to establish baseline data on existing activities related to these technologies and to identify opportunities for future development. MRCOG staff analyzed the results, conducted additional research and wrote the study with industry feedback. The final draft was vetted by members of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, experts in financial markets and authorities on educational and training programs.
An MRCOG study and the NMGCC report on the study includes recommendations such as bolstering specialized education, providing investment tax credits, encouraging energy self-sufficiency in public facilities, and spreading awareness and utilization of solar facilities and Sandia National Labs. The report also recommends the creation of a solar cluster association to enable greater communication and collaboration between interdependent companies.
“We have a great start in capitalizing on solar power here in the Albuquerque metropolitan area,” says Mayor of Corrales and MRCOG Board Chair Phil Gasteyer. “Now we need to foster economic conditions for an industry cluster—concentrating companies and institutions—to enhance the success of the interrelated solar businesses here in central New Mexico.”
To view the Solar Technology Cluster Report, visit: http://nmgreenchamber.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Solar-Technology-Cluster-Report.pdf