Report: Oil and gas leads New Mexico in greenhouse gas emissions, renewable sector growing
State efforts to reduce the impact of climate change in New Mexico took the form of three major initiatives: cutting emissions from oil and gas operations, pushing more renewable energy and updating regulations such as building codes and vehicle standards to be more environmentally sound.
On Friday, New Mexico’s Climate Change Task Force released its annual report, updating progress on the state’s climate change efforts and the Task Force’s recommendations on how to meet New Mexico’s goals.
The Task Force, made up of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), was formed in January 2019 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham via executive order as she assumed office.
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Lujan Grisham said ecological concerns such as lengthening fire seasons and drought showed that the state must continue its focus on policy aimed at reducing the causes of climate change, and that work continued even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In many ways, our commitment to fighting climate change is only stronger, as we have seen the stark effects of a changing climate laid bare with an extended fire season, extreme drought conditions and low water levels,” Lujan Grisham said. “We are dead set against allowing climate change to bring about the next public health crisis.”
EMNRD Cabinet Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst said that while the state made progress on climate change in the last year, it would continue its efforts in diversifying the state’s economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels and grow New Mexico’s renewable energy sector.
“In a short amount of time, New Mexico has taken meaningful steps to address the climate crisis, diversify our economy, and expand renewable energy,” Propst said. “This report chronicles the work accomplished so far, but also holds us accountable for the significant work left to do.”
James Kenney, NMED cabinet secretary said the Task Force’s achievements were led by partnerships between the government and private industry.
“The public and private sectors are proudly leading climate mitigation efforts – building hope for the future,” said James Kenney, Cabinet Secretary of the Environment Department. “We are absolutely dedicated to continuing this critical work outlined in this report as quickly as possible.”
Fossil fuel development remained the highest generator of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) in New Mexico, the report read, representing 53 percent of the state’s GHG emissions followed by transportation at 14 percent and electricity generation at 11 percent.
The state cited a recent study from Colorado State University this year that provided “the best estimates to date” of recent and future emissions from New Mexico-specific sources.
The CSU report showed oil and gas generated 60 million metric tons of GHGs in 2018, about four times more than previously estimated.
Among all sectors, the state generated about 113.6 million metric tons of GHGs, about 1.8 percent of the U.S.’ total emissions.
That meant New Mexico produced more than 50 tons per person per year of GHGs, the report read, more than twice the national average per capita.
Nationally, oil and gas generated about 31 percent of GHGs, read the report.
Air pollution could be curbed by New Mexico’s growing renewable energy sector, the report read.
That Task Force reported about 1,346 megawatts of renewables – enough to power more than 300,000 homes – was expected to come online by the end of 2020.
Since the Energy Transition Act was passed last year, which called for New Mexico to shift to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2024, the state saw 11 renewable energy project come online, the report read, for a total capacity of 268 MW.
By the end of the year, there will be 15 new projects brought into operations.
To deliver renewable energy to customers across the state, the report called on New Mexico to increase its transmission infrastructure for renewable energy.
Increasing transmission lines by 900 to 1,300 miles could led to developing another 11,500 MW by 2032 and would allow New Mexico to reach its goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
New Mexico currently has about 9,300 miles of transmission lines.
The report advocated for both large, utility scale installations of wind and solar, and smaller community installations like solar panels on homes and businesses.
Development of renewable energy project both large and small was bolstered, the report read, thanks to legislation passed during New Mexico’s recent 2020 Legislative Session.
Senate Bill 29 established a solar market development income tax credit that allows taxpayers to gain up to $6,000 in income tax credits per year for solar, thermal and photovoltaic power systems, with EMNRD receiving about 150 applications in the first two months of the program, the report read.
Senate Memorial 63 established a community solar working group to develop strategies for a community solar program in New Mexico that would allow multiple users to benefit from small-scale solar panel installations.
New Mexico’s revamped regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas, which are under public review, were intended to see operators capture 98 percent of emissions by 2026.
Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund said New Mexico must enact stricter pollution restrictions to meet its climate change goals, and that the Task Force’s report showed that more work must be done.
“Governor Lujan Grisham has taken strong action on climate change, but comprehensive, economy-wide action will still be needed to provide the greatest possible certainty the state meets its climate goals and to protect New Mexicans from the worst impacts of a warmer, drier world,” Goldstein said.
“This report also underlines the need for New Mexico’s regulators to do more to close loopholes in their draft methane rules given that oil and gas emissions are the largest source of climate pollution in the state. If the loopholes are not addressed, Gov Lujan Grisham’s administration will fall short of their ambitious and needed targets.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.