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New Mexico could be a hot spot for solar development, but Four Corners faces hurdles
A report released after federal tariffs on imported solar products takes effect says New Mexico could be leader in the domestic market.
FARMINGTON — The State of New Mexico is primed for tapping into a growing domestic industry in advanced solar technology, according to an economic report released today, but a local leader says the Four Corners region would face some obstacles in joining the game.
The American Jobs Project and University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research released a report today detailing how to create jobs in advanced solar technology in New Mexico, including policy recommendations to help the state move forward.
The report is titled the "New Mexico Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Advanced Solar Technology."
“New Mexico has already made significant investments to tap into the $1.4 trillion global advanced energy industry through natural gas and wind projects. Our research shows that the state can continue to capitalize on this opportunity by becoming a hub for advanced solar technologies,” Kate Ringness, American Jobs Project director and co-author of the report, said in a press release.
Advanced solar technologies “leverage enhanced form and function to create hyper-efficient, inexpensive, multi-functional and easy-to-integrate products,” the report states. Examples include microscopic solar cells known as “solar glitter” that can be integrated in fabric, or advanced solar thermal technology that uses solar power to heat water into steam that can be used to power turbines.
Though the potential could be good for the state as a whole, Four Corners Economic Development Director Warren Unsicker said the Four Corners would need a “simultaneous endeavor” on behalf of local players to see advanced solar technology and development in the region.
Unsicker said inexpensive rates from local power producers have dulled public interest in solar infrastructure, and San Juan College discontinued its renewable energy program in July 2016 due to low enrollment and increasing costs, reducing the local workforce that specializes solar power.
“It’s almost got to be a simultaneous endeavor to get things rolling,” Unsicker said. “The user base, the production base, the education base — it’s all gotta be there, and from a cluster prospective (where industry is concentrated in specific geographical areas), if you’re trying to accomplish that, you’re going to need to be focusing on all aspects of the equation and not just one or the other.”
The report states that New Mexico is well-positioned to help lead the domestic effort to advance the solar industry, which has been impacted by federal tariffs on imported solar products that were recommended by U.S. President Donald Trump in January.
The move aims to create domestic jobs and secure an American foothold in the global solar production market that is dominated by Chinese products, but Unsicker said it also means solar projects will increase in cost as domestic companies cover production start-up costs and begin developing new products.
The report recommends a variety of policies to aid the process, including streamlining the solar permitting processes, establishing a technology maturation loan fund and facilitating community-based pilot programming.
Training and keeping a highly-skilled and trained workforce is also among the recommendations, which include creating a student loan repayment assistance program to improve retention and establishing an “advanced solar center of excellence” that teams with universities and education programs throughout the state.
With resources throughout the state, New Mexico is primed to step into the game, the report states, and Athena Christodoulou, president of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association, agrees.
“With demand for advanced solar solutions increasing around the world, thousands of jobs are up for grabs for those who chose to lead,” Christodoulou said in a press release. “The New Mexico Jobs Project demonstrates how our state can seize this opportunity and offers a pathway for industry growth and collaboration across industry, government and university partners.”
Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.