The lecture describes the successes and challenges of NM solar energy

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

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

Industry leaders and elected officials described successes and challenges in reducing consumer solar costs and generating more electricity 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 does New Mexico support solar energy? : The Land of Enchantment has more than 300 days of sunshine a year. About 6% of the state’s electricity comes from solar power.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said while the state is pushing for more solar projects, investing money in communities facing economic upheaval during a transition away from power in the coal.

The Energy Transition Act of 2019 allocates $40 million for New Mexico coal workers and regional economic development.

“We’re helping community colleges do the work so students are ready to enter a job market that produces exactly what we know it needs, which is renewable energy and a heavy focus on solar power,” said Lujan Grisham.

The governor applauded scientists, advocates and state lawmakers for crafting policies to make solar power more reliable and cheaper.

“It’s a no-brainer,” she said.

The state has a solar development tax credit, which the governor says is essential for providing low-income residents with renewable energy.

What role does the federal government play? : Governments and private industry have a duty to streamline solar projects and tackle the climate crisis, US Senator Martin Heinrich has said.

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

“The lack of transmission capacity is the biggest limiting factor to the number of large-scale clean energy projects we can bring online,” Heinrich said.

US companies are slowly recovering from a US Commerce Department investigation that threatened to impose costly tariffs on solar panel imports.

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

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

But damage has already been done.

“It will take time for solar companies to get out of the crater created by this whole episode,” Heinrich said.

How do utilities harness solar energy? : Global supply chain issues continue to plague utilities transitioning to renewables.

But Wednesday’s conference offered some successes.

Daytime electricity from the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos County is now 100% solar.

Lujan Grisham cited the cooperative as an example for other rural utilities.

“We are moving fast,” said Lujan Grisham.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plan to replace energy resources at the coal-fired San Juan plant has yet to materialize due to 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 address these issues.

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

“I think we need to do this with new technology that provides longer-lasting storage,” he said.

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