Leadership New Mexico group visits San Juan County

Core Program visit included tour of San Juan Generating Station

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Lisa O'Brien of Leadership New Mexico's Core Program listens while San Juan Generating Station operating manager Heath Lee gives a tour of the plant on Thursday.
  • Applications for Leadership New Mexico 2019 Core Program have closed.
  • The Core Program is a 10-month seminar series aimed at bringing leaders together to explore statewide issues.
  • Participants also visited the San Juan College School of Energy and local libraries and museums.

FARMINGTON — Business leaders from throughout the state visited the Four Corners this week as part of Leadership New Mexico’s final seminar series in the 2018 Core Program.

Leadership New Mexico is a nonpartisan statewide leadership development organization based out of Albuquerque, according to its website. The nonprofit facilitates a Core Program each year to bring emerging leaders together to address current issues in the state.

This year’s cohort, which consists of 42 participants from throughout the state, is the 22st in the program, according to Leadership New Mexico director Megan Van Winkle. The group visited Farmington and surrounding areas from Thursday through Saturday for the program, which Van Winkle said “is really all about education and connections.”

“I think that we can all agree that those two things mean a lot for the state of New Mexico as far as not continuing to be No. 49 (among all states) in some of these issues that we talk about,” Van Winkle said on Thursday. 

The cohort comes together in different communities six times over the course of the 10-month program, according to a press release from Leadership New Mexico. Each session lasts several days, and includes seminars and trips to help the participants understand a variety of issues communities throughout the state face, including health and human services, economic development, education, government and crime and justice issues.

The visit to Farmington focused on the topics of the environment and natural resources, and Van Winkle said the Four Corners has typically been the host for energy topics.

Participants spent part of their visit in seminars led by leaders in the energy industry, including New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources senior economic geologist Virginia McLemore; New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Secretary Ken McQueen; Utton Transboundary Resources Center director Adrian Oglesby; and program alumnus and Merrion Oil and Gas Co. investment manager George Sharpe, according to the press release.

Other session events included visits to the Drake Running Horse Ranch, the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, the Farmington Public Library, the Merrion Oil and Gas Co., the San Juan College School of Energy and the San Juan Generating Station.

Heath Lee, operations manager for the San Juan Generating Station, helped lead an optional tour of the coal-fired power plant outside of Farmington on Thursday. He said the tour is beneficial for the power plant’s employees and owners, and the program’s participants.

“It’s great that there’s a group that wants to understand the industry and what’s going on and how they can help New Mexico change with us,” Lee said after the tour on Thursday afternoon. “I’m always glad to give tours to people who really want to understand what we do.”

Core Program participant Paul Lorskulsint, chief of staff for Urenco USA’s nuclear power company in Hobbs, said the Farmington events provided an important avenue for participants to learn more about the energy industry in New Mexico, especially as the San Juan Generating Station — one of the state’s largest power providers — is set to retire coal operations by 2022 and as the energy industry in general changes.

“Everybody want renewables, renewables, renewables, but they don’t really truly understand the makeup of how the power generation business works,” Lorskulsint said. “This helps them understand it, and maybe they can look at it with a more open mind and maybe recognize that we don’t necessarily need to put all our eggs in one basket. We might need a bit of everything."

Core Program participant and Taos Community Foundation director Lisa O’Brien said this week’s events have provided opportunities for “intense learning.”

“My learning has been broadened from the sense that people coming from other sectors have a very different impression than what I have, so to be able to be in a room of other amazing thinkers and leaders and go, ‘Oh wow, I never would have thought about it from that side,’ because I think about it from this place of human service and community linking,” O’Brien said.

Applications for the 23rd cohort of the Core Program have closed. More information is available at

Megan Petersen covers business and education at The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or