Conference outlines NM solar successes, challenges - Albuquerque Journal

Conference outlines NM solar successes, challenges

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham addresses the American Solar Energy Conference at the University of New Mexico Student Union Building on Wednesday. Elected officials and solar energy industry leaders spoke about the successes and challenges of New Mexico’s renewable energy transition. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

A rainy morning couldn’t dampen the sunny enthusiasm at the American Solar Energy Society conference on Wednesday at the University of New Mexico.

Industry leaders and elected officials outlined successes and challenges when it comes to lowering consumer solar costs and generating more power from renewable sources.

Wednesday’s speeches were part of a four-day conference in Albuquerque that drew solar energy experts, companies and advocates from across the country.

Here are some takeaways from the keynote speeches:

How is New Mexico supporting solar energy?: The Land of Enchantment has more than 300 sunny days each year. About 6% of the state’s electricity comes from solar energy.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that even as the state pushes for more solar projects, it is critical to invest money in communities that face economic upheaval during a transition away from coal-fired power.

The 2019 Energy Transition Act directs $40 million to New Mexico’s coal workers and regional economic development.

“We’re supporting the community colleges to do the work so students are ready to go into a job market that produces exactly what we know that we need, which is renewable energy and a high focus on solar,” Lujan Grisham said.

The governor applauded state scientists, advocates and lawmakers for crafting policies to make solar energy more reliable and less expensive.

“It is a no-brainer,” she said.

The state has a solar development tax credit, which the governor said is key for offering low-income residents renewable energy power.

What role does the federal government play?: Governments and private industry have a duty to streamline solar projects and combat the climate crisis, said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich.

But federal regulators and companies are operating with a congested and poorly connected renewable energy grid.

“The lack of transmission capacity is the single greatest limiting factor on how many large-scale clean energy projects we can bring online,” Heinrich said.

American companies are slowly rebounding from a U.S. Commerce Department investigation that threatened to place costly tariffs on solar panel imports.

Several New Mexico solar businesses laid off employees and canceled new projects.

After lobbying from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Heinrich, President Joe Biden earlier this month said that no new tariffs will be imposed on solar imports from some Asian countries for at least two years.

But some damage has already been done.

“It’s going to take time for solar companies to climb out of the crater that was created by this whole episode,” Heinrich said.

How are utilities harnessing solar power?: Global supply chain issues continue to plague utilities transitioning to renewable energy.

But Wednesday’s conference offered some success stories.

Daytime power for the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos County is now 100% solar.

Lujan Grisham pointed to the co-op as an example for other rural utilities.

“We are moving quickly,” Lujan Grisham said.

Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plan to replace energy resources from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station has yet to materialize because of international supply issues.

But Ron Darnell, PNM’s senior vice president of public policy, said he has “all the confidence in the world” that elected officials will fix those problems.

It is up to companies to improve battery storage, Darnell said, so that solar power is more accessible and reliable for the average customer.

“I believe we need to do it with new technology that provides longer duration storage,” he said.

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