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State official discusses energy economy

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Lisa Dunlap Photo “Transportation, this is the big elephant in the room,” says Daren Zigich of the New Mexico Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department about factors necessitating a change in the state’s energy economy. “A third to a half of all the vehicles coming in the next five to 10 years are going to be electric vehicles.”

Some international research groups have concluded that electric-powered vehicles could represent 90 percent of the world’s vehicles by 2040, and initiatives are underway to reduce fossil fuel consumption in major markets worldwide.

In the face of such shifts, New Mexico must develop alternative energy industries and restructure its oil and gas industries, according to Daren Zigich, a state energy department manager.

“If we are going to transition our energy economy, how are we going to transition it in a way that doesn’t collapse our economy but enhances our economy? That’s the real key,” Zigich said.

Speaking at a Friday board of directors meeting of the Southeast New Mexico Economic Development District – Council of Governments, Zigich said that the importance of the issue is seen by the 12 bills concerning energy production, regulation and consumption that have been pre-filed by New Mexico legislators. More bills are expected once the session starts Tuesday.

“It is going to be an energy-heavy session,” Zigich said.

Zigich is the engineering technology program manager for the Energy Conservation and Management Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

The department is the principal investigator of the New Mexico Energy Roadmap Project, funded by a U.S. Department of Energy grant. The department worked with a consulting group, New Mexico First, to gather research and develop the report issued in January 2018.

The project has created strategies and goals for carrying out the state’s 2015 energy plan through 2027 following discussions with energy producers, public utility regulators and owners, state government managers, educators and research scientists, business leaders, state and federal legislators, auto manufacturers and home builders, and environmental groups.

Fifteen goals to transition toward renewable energy sources and to restructure the fossil fuel industries have been developed, with the goals organized around five categories: economic diversification, moving energy (pipelines, transmission lines), transportation, energy efficiency and workforce development and training.

Zigich explained that energy consumption worldwide has changed dramatically from five decades ago. Lowest cost is no longer the deciding factor for many institutional and individual consumers. Now decisions also balance environmental impacts, energy efficiency and safety considerations. On an individual basis, many people no longer have to rely on power supplied by public utilities or gasoline and diesel producers.

“Today an individual homeowner can self-generate near zero-cost electricity for about the cost it takes to replace the windows in their home,” he said. “That same self-generating individual can now fuel their alternative-fueled vehicle and, thus, decouple their transportation needs from the liquid fuels market.”

He said that while the oil and gas industry in the state is expected to remain a major economic force for several decades, it will need to create new markets and consumers and look into value-added products, such as making plastics or finding marketable uses for the “produced water” created from oil and gas drilling activities, with some possibilities including agricultural uses, fire control uses and extracting lithium hydroxide, which can be used for vehicle batteries.

The industry also must continue its efforts to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impacts, he said, which some industry members at the Friday meeting said are hampered by the decisions and activities of regulators.

Others at the meeting also said that New Mexican residents should understand that the overall benefits of renewable energy projects in the state are reduced when project owners are not required to pay property, income or sales taxes in the communities in which they are located.

While the “Roadmap” project continues to work on its goals, the state energy department also has launched a related effort called the New Mexico Financial Resiliency through Energy Efficiency (FREE) Project.

The FREE project concentrates on three goals established by the road map: strengthening the state’s energy economy by 2027, increasing New Mexico’s energy efficiency so that it ranks within the top 20 in the United States by 2027 and improving energy efficiency behaviors by New Mexico residents by 2027.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, New Mexico now ranks 36th in the nation for its energy efficiency. The state is judged on such things as building standards, mass transportation networks and funding, and incentives provided for renewable and alternative energy industries.

Increasing energy-efficiency behaviors by individuals, according to the “Roadmap” goals, would include increasing the use of alternative-fueled vehicles, mass transit, walking or biking, energy-efficient lighting and smart meters to reduce energy usage.

Zigich said he thinks the 2015 energy plan and the “Roadmap” project should provide information and ideas that will result in legislative improvements.

“It would be nice to get an energy policy that is a little more robust,” he said.

Documents and information related to the project are available on the EMNRD website, emnrd.state.nm.us.

Senior writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.