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FARMINGTON — San Juan College is getting attention in Santa Fe for its potential in training a renewable energy industry workforce.  

A bill introduced in the New Mexico House of Representatives would turn the college into a Center of Excellence for renewable energy. It would be one of four Centers of Excellence in the state. Each center would receive $500,000.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has pushed to create the centers. Each would have its own focus. For example, New Mexico State University’s focus would be agriculture and University of New Mexico would focus on bioscience. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the fourth center of excellence, would focus on cybersecurity.

“I think we were selected based on our long history of working with our energy partners,” said San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass.

Nora Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email statement that the college’s former renewable energy program was highly ranked and considered one of the best in the nation.

“The governor knows that New Mexico should be a national leader in clean energy, and making San Juan College a nationally-recognized Center of Excellence in sustainable and renewable energy will start us down that path,” Sackett said.

She said the Energy Transition Act, which Lujan Grisham has backed, would set “bold statewide renewable energy standards.”

The Energy Transition Act provides a funding mechanism for utilities like Public Service Company of New Mexico to pay for transitioning from coal generation to low-carbon alternatives. It also provides funding for workforce retraining and economic assistance to impacted communities.

Sackett stated that San Juan College could potentially play an essential role in transitioning the region to renewable energy and establishing New Mexico as a national leader in addressing the causes of climate change.

While the college no longer has its renewable energy program, it has acquired new technology to train students to work in renewable energy. College officials said this technology was acquired because of growing interest in the community.  

While the program was essentially eliminated, Pendergrass said the college still has the curriculum needed to bring it back. She said the School of Energy has also expanded its instrumentation and controls program and its automation program.

Qinqin Schoser, an instructor of instrumentation and controls, said the classes she already teaches can also prepare students for careers in renewable energy. She said instrumentation and controls provides a skill set that can be applied to a variety of careers including water treatment and electrical generation.

She explained that many of the concepts that hold true for traditional energy fields —such as grounding electricity — are also needed in the renewable field.

“We don’t call ourselves renewable energy, but our skill sets definitely fit the need,” she said.

The college also has a new system that simulates solar and wind generation systems to train students. It includes a solar panel and a lamp to simulate the sun. The lamp can be adjusted to simulate changes in the sun. There is also a wind turbine on the side and the system is programmable to simulate different wind strengths.

Pendergrass said the college teaches solar maintenance throughout its programs.

“Our focus has always been to meet the workforce needs of our service area,” Pendergrass said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

 

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