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Traditional fuels and renewables: ‘Better together’

If ever there was a state with such a wealth of energy resources – fossil fuels, minerals and renewable energy sources – it’s New Mexico. Lately, a welcome bevy of wind and solar energy projects have begun or been announced. Still, New Mexicans must continue to rely on and support traditional fuel sources and pipelines to help heat and cool their homes and bolster renewables. The state’s motto must be “Better Together.”

It’s clear why renewables are finally gaining a lot more attention here. New Mexico has long been blessed with rich oil, natural gas, uranium and coal reserves, but as the fifth-largest state by land area, much of the state is open to gusty winds and plenty of sunshine, putting New Mexico among the nation’s top 10 energy producers.

Wind energy already contributes nearly 20% of the state’s electricity generation. and wind farm projects under development promise to make New Mexico a wind energy dynamo. A 522-megawatt wind farm is expected to be in operation late this year. That project will, however, be dwarfed by miles of wind turbines on hundreds of thousands of acres near Corona that could provide electricity for every home in New Mexico.

One group is working to develop a project that will bring 3,000 megawatts of wind power in the Corona area, and would help meet the state’s goal to be 50% renewable by 2030 and 100% by 2045. Plus, new transmission lines under construction and placed strategically at the edge of three major U.S. electrical grids, as well as a power trading hub in northwestern New Mexico, among other places, will help deliver and supply excess electricity generated by renewables to other western states.

On the solar front, Public Service Co. of New Mexico and a local developer have built a 50-megawatt facility to generate all the power for Facebook’s Los Lunas Data Center located in Sandoval County west of Rio Rancho.

Yet, state officials and residents must not forget that oil and natural gas pipelines are, and will remain, essential to continue to help heat and cool New Mexico homes and businesses, and to help transport the electricity generated by wind and solar power. This is a serious concern because major oil and gas pipelines have been delayed or cancelled around the country as anti-energy activists fight them, and regulators and judges in some states rule that government environmental reviews have cut corners.

Renewable energy proponents must be aware that, as Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, puts it, “what goes around can come around.” He argues that legal strategies used to derail pipelines can be turned against clean energy projects, especially if permitting processes for such projects aren’t improved to develop these energy projects quickly and improve our electric grid infrastructure.

That’s why the best approach to lead our energy future is to promote the idea that traditional fuel sources and renewables are “better together” in providing our energy needs.

Matt Gonzales of Cimmaron is a New Mexico state director of the Consumer Energy Alliance, supporting affordable, reliable energy for working families, seniors and businesses nationwide.

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