Proposal to create permanent renewable energy office headed to governor’s desk

By: - March 10, 2023 5:58 am
A technician servicing photovoltaic cells at a solar energy farm In Albuquerque. (Photo By Getty Images)

A technician servicing photovoltaic cells at a solar energy farm In Albuquerque. (Photo By Getty Images)

The New Mexico state agency tasked with managing state-owned lands could have a permanent division devoted to renewable energy if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs into law a proposal passed by the New Mexico Legislature on Thursday.

House Bill 95 would formally establish an office of renewable energy within the New Mexico State Land Office. The Senate on Thursday afternoon passed the legislation in a 27-8 vote.

It had already passed the House, so it is now headed to the desk of Gov. Lujan Grisham.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard established an informal renewable energy office in 2019, said Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Las Cruces), who carried the bill through the Senate.

The office has shepherded geothermal, wind and solar projects, Hamblen said. The state land office has 39 active long-term renewable energy leases including 27 for wind projects and 12 for solar projects, and 33 lease applications under review, according to legislative analysts.

However, without making the renewable energy division part of state law, it “could be dissolved by future state land commissioners,” according to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

The bill would make the division formal, and make renewable energy part of the state land office’s mission, Hamblen said.

Even with a formal renewable energy office in place, legislative analysts wrote that “future state land commissioners could eliminate or greatly reduce renewable energy development.” 

“If we are going to continue to work on diversifying our revenue, providing jobs to those moving from the oil fields to the solar fields, and to maximize the financial impact on our public schools, this is a benefit to our entire state,” Hamblen said.

The agency also has offices devoted to commercial, agricultural and oil & gas activities, Hamblen said.

The State Land Office raised $2.4 billion for New Mexico schools in 2022, Hamblen said. Of that, $12 million was from renewable energy, she said.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.