New Mexico would gain up to 18,000 jobs if it partnered with other westerns states on a regional power grid, according to a recent study, saving state power users million on their bills and working toward goals to reduce pollution from carbon emissions by increasing access to renewable energy.
National energy industry advocacy group Advanced Energy Economy released its study Tuesday, analyzing the economic implications of New Mexico and other states in the western U.S. forming a regional transmission organization (RTO).
An RTO would create a regional power grid that could serve customers in all states, the report read, adding about $114 million in annual energy savings to users in New Mexico.
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The shared grid would also bring up to $116 million in state and local revenue, read the report.
Rikki Seguin, executive director of the Albuquerque-based Interwest Energy Alliance, a renewable energy industry trade group, said an RTO in the west would improve New Mexico’s access to “clean” and reliable energy while lowering costs for consumers.
“Customers and businesses across the West benefit from clean, reliable, affordable energy – and an RTO can help accelerate the opportunity coming our way from the clean energy transition,” Seguin said. “Interwest is excited to see this report detail just how much New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado would benefit from an RTO with good-paying permanent jobs and enormous cost savings.
“It’s time for the West to move into action and secure our energy system.”
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In New Mexico, Pattern Energy recently became a leading company in the renewable energy sector, leasing 11 tracts State Trust land for its wind energy project and taking the lead on a transmission line to connect wind power generated in south-central New Mexico with markets to the west in Arizona and potentially California.
The wind farm on about 174,000 acres in Lincoln, Torrance and San Miguel counties was expected to generate about 500 megawatts (MW) of wind energy, and the transmission line was designed to send 3,000 MW about 550 miles into Pinal County, Arizona near Tucson where it could go further west to coastal markets.
Pattern Vice President of External Affairs Sarah Webster said and RTO would help companies like Pattern further move renewable energy around the region, to the benefit of a broader pool of customers.
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“Pattern Energy supports the formation of a Western RTO as a critical step to establishing a more resilient grid for the region,” she said. “The coordinated transmission planning that can come from an RTO will help drive economic growth across the region while saving consumers literally billions of dollars.”
The RTO, as suggested by the report, would include New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, sharing a power grid to create stronger reliability for users.
This would also generate up to $1.6 billion on gross state product (GSP), the report read, and up to 2,580 temporary construction jobs in 2030, bringing an addition $233 million in GSP and up to $17.6 million in tax revenue to New Mexico.
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Former an RTO would also add up to 770 megawatts of renewable energy to New Mexico’s grid by 2030, the report read, lowering costs and attracting new businesses to the state.
“These benefits to the New Mexico economy would be driven by lower electricity prices (in comparison to a case without an RTO) for households and businesses, additional clean energy development across the state, and expansion of existing or attraction of new businesses to New Mexico, which may decide to locate or expand in the state from the competitive advantage gained from lower electricity prices,” read the report.
“The sooner RTO development occurs, the sooner New Mexico can begin to realize these economic benefits.”
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Renewable energy was a key priority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham since taking office in 2019, signing bills early in her term in 2020 to increase tax credits for renewable energy development, allowing transmission lines to receive bonds from local governments and calling on her administration to modernize the state’s electrical grid to support renewable power projects.
She also backed and ultimately signed the Energy Transition Act (ETA) to shift the state away from carbon-based, fossil fuel energy and require New Mexico generate 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045.
“This legislation is a promise to future generations of New Mexicans, who will benefit from both a cleaner environment and a more robust energy economy with exciting career and job opportunities,” Lujan Grisham said upon signing the ETA into law in 2019.
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The state’s push for expanded renewable energy followed global trends as the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted accelerated development in renewable energy in the next five years, asserting the world could add as much in the next half-decade as it did in the previous 20 years.
Nations were motivated by concerns for their own energy security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the aggressor nation – the second largest oil and gas producers in the world – being removed from international markets, the report read.
To reduce their reliance on imported fossil fuels, the IEA said more countries were turning to renewables, with global capacity expected to rise by 2,400 gigawatts from 2022 to 2027.
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A gigawatt is equal to 1,000 megawatts.
This growth would mean renewables will account for 90 percent of global energy expansion in the next five years, the IEA predicted, surpassing coal as the largest source of electricity throughout the world in 2025.
“Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalize on their energy security benefits,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
“This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system. Renewables’ continued acceleration is critical to help keep the door open to limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.