NM, other states compete for energy development

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2009 6:25 PM

New Mexico has invited dozens of scientists, industry experts and others from across the nation to help develop a strategy for growing the state's biofuels industry.

But New Mexico is not alone.

North Carolina has a plan for biomass development, Arizona is working on a roadmap for tapping the sun's potential, Texas already has a solar plan, Washington has a strategy for developing geothermal resources and Oklahoma has an initiative dedicated to promoting wind energy.

Elected leaders are establishing policies and incentives for putting their states at the front of the line as the nation searches for alternative ways to meet energy demands. At stake are jobs, tax revenues and the ripple effects of economic development.

"A lot of states are feeling competitive about renewables, but I think that's a really good thing," said Sarah Cottrell, energy policy adviser for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

New Mexico for several years has had task forces and working groups dedicated to promoting development of the state's solar and wind resources, but the effort to grow the biofuels industry is new.

Just last week, state officials and others had their first meeting on developing the biofuels strategy. They expect to have the plan ready for public review by April.

Maria Zannes, director of outreach for the Southwestern Biofuels Association, a trade group, said the idea is to determine how best to develop biofuels in an arid climate with limited water supplies.

"Our intent here is to develop a plan that can be replicated in other states, particularly in the Southwest," she said.

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., say clean energy development is spreading nationwide. Growth stems from public policies such as net-metering programs and renewable energy portfolio standards.

All but 14 states have adopted renewable standards, which require utilities to provide a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. New Mexico's renewable portfolio currently calls for 6 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources. That will increase to 20 percent by 2020.

All but seven states have net-metering programs that allow customers who generate their own electricity to send surplus power back to the grid and have it subtracted from their bills.

A recent laboratory report shows states that implemented net-metering legislation in 2005 had significantly more renewable energy generation by 2007 than states without such a policy.

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"There's a whole slew of policies that are out there right now. ... They are removing barriers to development," said NREL senior energy analyst Joyce McLaren.

Before legislators propose new laws, they should understand what resources can be tapped and environmental concerns that would sideline development, said Abbas Ghassemi, executive director of the Institute for Energy and Environment at New Mexico State University.

"It's like the early days of discovering oil. Texas and Oklahoma harvested that resource," he said. "If we are able to carefully put plans together that make sense and we're all working together and pushing it in that given direction, we are in a better position to harvest from this enormous opportunity."

Cottrell said the leading states will be those that make renewable energy a priority and develop tax credits and other incentives to attract scientists and developers.

"It's definitely our priority and the governor's priority to focus on how we can further grow these clusters of renewable energy and energy companies because success builds on success," she said.