Leaders to US Energy Secretary: San Juan County ready for new energy production

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan County is primed to be a center for new energy production. That's what county leaders told U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm when she met with them during a visit to the Four Corners region on Aug. 19.

Granholm was in New Mexico this week to learn about the state's diverse energy industries. Local leaders told her they believe San Juan County has what it takes to help the Biden administration as it examines opportunities to transition the country's energy dependence away from fossil fuels. 

Much of the 45-minute discussion was devoted to a provision in the proposed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which calls for hydrogen research and development, including using federal dollars to fund hydrogen demonstration projects.

The U.S. Senate passed the legislation on Aug. 10, but it has yet to be taken up by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Those hydrogen projects in the bill could help sustain the region's economy and the employment of seasoned energy workers, officials said.

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett told Granholm and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., that the area has existing infrastructure to welcome new industries and technologies dedicated to bringing energy out of the ground to serve the western part of the United States.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, left, and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich listen to a BayoTech official talk about the company's partnership with PESCO Inc. on Aug. 19 in Farmington.

"We're ready for that. I think that's an important component anytime you're looking at where to place a demonstration project," Duckett said.

He added that decades of energy development have created a skilled workforce, one that is ready for the challenge of hydrogen production.

Jason Sandel has advocated for energy development in the San Juan Basin for many years.

He told the secretary that New Mexico provides the opportunity to help the Biden administration meet their energy transition goals because of its abundant natural gas and diverse geology, the existing infrastructure and partnerships that have formed between industries and national laboratories and universities for technical assistance.

President Joe Biden in April announced a climate goal of a carbon-free electricity industry by 2035 and reaching net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050.

"Our community is up to the challenge and ripe for investment," Sandel said.

He added that this year marks a century since the first well was drilled in the San Juan Basin.

PESCO Inc. Business Development Manager John Byrom, left, talks about the company's construction of a reactor unit during U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm's visit on Aug. 19 in Farmington.

"The expertise that we have is the springboard that will lead us to a new energy economy and the investment in our community," Sandel said.

San Juan County Commission Chairman John Beckstead said the county wants to become not only a hub for hydrogen energy but serve as the country's hydrogen center because the region already has the components for that transition.

From private industries to workforce training, the county can fulfill that spot, he said.

While there is movement to save the San Juan Generating Station by utilizing carbon sequestration, regional leaders realize that energy production is changing.

"We want to be a part of that transition," Beckstead said.

Granholm listened to the leaders with attention but cautioned them that the bill has yet to be enacted and, if that happens, then a competitive process would occur.

"There are opportunities to create hydrogen hubs in key areas across the country," she said.

San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass, left, and Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett attend a roundtable discussion with U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm on Aug. 19 at PESCO Inc. in Farmington

Granholm said it would be a competition, but the administration is interested in seeing where elements of that technology "have already got some seeds planted and we are excited to be here."

Her two-day visit to New Mexico came at the request of Heinrich. Prior to the discussion, they toured PESCO Inc. and saw the company's work to manufacture reactor units for BayoTech, an Albuquerque-based hydrogen energy company.

The units will produce hydrogen, ammonia and fertilizer and are being built through a partnership between the two companies, according to The Daily Times archives.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm listens to remarks during a roundtable discussion about energy development on Aug. 19 at PESCO Inc. in Farmington.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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