Creating employment opportunities and economic hope in New Mexico and beyond with renewable energy
With global temperatures revising the record books, droughts and wildfires threatening homes and food production, and people across the nation and world demanding urgent climate action, there’s no longer any doubt: We need to transition to renewable energy (RE). Moving from polluting fossil fuels to clean solar and wind is essential for adequately reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving the planet from catastrophic warming.
But, when it comes to the case for renewables, the environment is only part of the equation. Moving to a green economy is not only a way to contribute to the cleanliness and sustainability of our planet; it can also create career opportunities, reduce unemployment and lay the foundations for a more inclusive and equitable economy.
In New Mexico, we’re already seeing the economic advantages of the renewable revolution.
Start with jobs. At a time when unemployment is still painfully high in our state, the solar industry alone has created at least 1,900 high-quality jobs. These new solar opportunities support families across the state, and the income they generate feeds back into local economies, creating additional, new employment opportunities in other industries from healthcare to food services. Across the country, the number of solar jobs has doubled over the last five years, and there are now more Americans working in solar than in oil and gas.
Unlike many industries that simply ship wealth away to Wall Street or faraway investors, New Mexico’s solar industry tends to keep income local. That’s because many of our solar firms are local businesses. Some—like SunPower by Positive Energy Solar—are actually employee-owned businesses and certified “B-Corps”: enterprises that share profits with workers and support broader social missions to enhance the environment and contribute to community development.
Regardless of the shape that green industry takes, the growth of renewables means opportunity. It means new workforce-training programs and lifelong career prospects for young people or folks transitioning into new lines of work. For homeowners across the state and the nation, the growth of solar means other economic advantages like more predictable electricity prices and increased property values.
The environmental and economic cases for a renewable transition are crystal clear. Nonetheless, we still have our work cut out for us.
We need to preserve the policies that enable people to generate their own power, like state solar tax credits and net-metering laws that allow people to sell energy to the grid at a fair price. These laws level the playing field between renewables and older fossil fuels that receive massive government subsidies. Without action this year, the popular and cost-effective state tax credits will expire.
We also need to pave the way for “community solar”; that is, shared arrays that serve multiple buildings and make it possible for renters to access the benefits of clean and affordable energy. While this approach should be common sense, outdated rules prevent New Mexicans from taking advantage of such opportunities.
We also need to set ambitious targets for RE. While some states—California, Oregon, Hawaii and Vermont—have taken action to eliminate coal or drastically increase their renewable portfolios, New Mexico is falling behind. We currently get just 4 percent of our electricity from solar, despite the fact that we receive enough sunlight to meet all our energy needs. Santa Fe’s proposed Verde Fund—an idea for expanding RE championed by Mayor Javier Gonzales—is an important and exciting local-level step, but we also need state-level leadership. This means that we need to elect people who understand the environmental and the economic case for green energy to the Public Regulation Commission, the Statehouse and the Governor’s Mansion.
This crucial election year coincides with a moment of truth on climate change and a moment of urgent need on unemployment and the economy. In addition to installing RE, increasing household energy and water efficiency and spreading the word about green energy’s potential, there’s another simple, straightforward and effective action that each and every New Mexican can take: Demand that election candidates champion clean power.
Climate change is an urgent crisis, but it also presents an important opportunity: By going green, we can build a more prosperous and equitable economy.
Regina Wheeler, a seasoned executive manager, is the CEO and an employee-owner of SunPower by Positive Energy Solar.