Although New Mexico didn’t add any jobs in the solar industry in the last year, a recent report projected an about 8 percent increase through 2023 as the state enacts its community solar program to expand access to renewable energy.
In 2022, New Mexico had 2,013 jobs in the solar power industry, according to a report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, remaining consistent with the year before.
New Mexico ranked 31st in the US for solar jobs and 11th in the nation on a per-capita basis.
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In the last five years, the state saw a 20.2 percent drop in solar job growth, read the report.
That left New Mexico behind a 3.5 percent growth in solar jobs in 2022, read the report with a total of 263,883 jobs nationwide.
Solar jobs grew in neighboring states Texas with 904 more jobs added last year for its total of 11,250 jobs, and Colorado which added 200 jobs in the last year for its total of 7,626 jobs.
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Jobs in the industry grew in 42 states in 2022, led by California with 2,404 jobs and New York which added 988 jobs, followed by Texas and Florida which added 506 jobs.
“The solar industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, overcoming one challenge after the next to provide a quarter million jobs for Americans of all educational levels and backgrounds,” said Larry Sherwood, president of the Council.
He said passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, which conditioned continued oil and gas leasing of federal land on the approval of solar projects around the country, would further bolster the industry.
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In New Mexico, federal land accounts for about 34 percent of the state, the 9th most in the US
New Mexico set for solar power growth in 2023?
Also positioning New Mexico for future growth in the solar industry, the state recently advanced its community solar program, allowing the development of smaller solar installations that would allow multiple users to tap into a shared “solar garden.”
This was intended to increase access to solar power for low-income and renting residents.
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On Tuesday, New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission released the final documents allowing subscribers to begin the process of joining community solar projects in the state.
The program capped at 200 megawatts of solar power statewide, was required to serve at least 30 percent low-income users.
“This is a significant milestone in the journey towards a sustainable energy future for New Mexicans,” read a statement from the PRC. “We kindly request your organization’s commitment to respecting residents and ensuring a positive experience throughout the subscriber acquisition process.”
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Statewide, New Mexico had 1,601 megawatts of solar power installed as of the first quarter of 2023, according to data from the Solar Energy Industry Association, ranking 20th.th in the nation after dipping from the age of 14th in the US in 2022.
The association predicted New Mexico would increase solar power by 4,168 MW in the next five years, ranking it fifth in the US for projected growth.
The state was ranked third in the nation for solar energy potential by the Energy Information Administration, credited to its typically sunny weather in a May report.
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Renewable energy contributed 42 percent of New Mexico’s electricity generation, the EIA reported, with 84 percent coming from wind power the rest mostly from solar.
But oil and gas industry groups warned that the growth in renewable energy could not offset the losses they feared from the oil and gas industry, resulting from shifting public policy and efforts to transition the US away from fossil fuels.
Larry Behrens, spokesman based in Santa Fe with oil and gas trade group Power the Future pointed to a recent heatwave across the state straining the power while he said renewables provided only a small portion of the state’s energy.
He argued state leaders were wrongly propping up renewable energy at the expense of sources he said were more reliable like oil and natural gas.
“The fact that renewables fail when they are needed the most is a reality that is ignored by Governor (Michelle) Lujan Grisham,” Behrens said. “Despite the rhetoric from clueless Santa Fe politicians, it is the energy workers in the natural gas and coal industries that deliver to New Mexicans when they need it most.
“If the Lujan Grisham administration wants to ‘decarbonize,’ why don’t they turn off the AC in their taxpayer funded offices and start right now?”
Adrian Heddencan be reached at 575-628-5516,email@example.com or@AdrianHedden on Twitter.