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Nibert discusses Alaskan energy conference

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State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell (Submitted Photo)

The need to protect infrastructure, workforce challenges and an emphasis on renewable energy were among some of the issues a local legislator heard about in Alaska at a meeting of energy-producing states.

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, returned from the three-day long Energy Council annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in late September when he spoke to the Roswell Daily Record.

A consortium made up of New Mexico and 13 other energy-producing states and two Canadian provinces, the council provides a forum for its members to address and find solutions for common energy-related issues.

The annual meeting included speakers from government, legislators, industry and academia.

Nibert, whose House District includes Chaves and Lincoln, and state Rep. Micaela Cadena, D-Mesilla, were both appointed to the council’s executive committee by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

The need to safeguard the nation’s energy infrastructure was one of the issues touched on at the conference, Nibert said. Much of the focus was about the importance of securing the nation’s electric grid and how vulnerable it is to hacking.

Nibert said electrical generation and electrical transportation companies have teams of people dedicated to monitoring computer systems and staving off cyber attacks.

He said a recent attack on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia shortly before the conference opened the eyes to some people at the conference about how vulnerable oil and gas infrastructure such as wellheads, gas pipelines and refineries could be to an attack.

Nibert said states and communities need to be aware of attacks that could happen on that infrastructure.

Whereas in many parts of the world, energy infrastructure is guarded and kept behind walls, it is often not guarded as much in the United States.

“We live now unfortunately in a different world and some of these things are … issues we need to at least think about,” he said.

Another area of discussion was the workforce challenges facing the energy sector.

The Permian Basin with its soaring levels of energy production needs to get enough skilled workers to do the work that needs to be done.

Additional issues include the high cost of living in oil boom communities so that oil and gas employees can live in or near the same towns where they work.

“I think you are seeing a lot of people living in Roswell and commuting every day south of Carlsbad because they can afford to live in Roswell, but they can’t afford to live in Carlsbad,” Nibert said.

Another peculiar issue that Nibert said was the difficulty non-energy jobs have in competing with higher wage employment opportunities in the oil and gas industries. Though such jobs might not pay as much, they are crucial for the life of a community.

“And so you have a lot of people going to the energy sector — the oil and gas sector here — and how does McDonald’s hire the people to wait on people at the restaurants? How does the mom and pop restaurant get waitresses that serve,” asked Nibert?

One other issue facing New Mexico and other states dependent on the extractive and energy industries for jobs and their local and state budgets are the challenges that come with having more renewable energy in their energy portfolios.

This past legislative session, lawmakers passed and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Energy Transition Act into law. The landmark legislation sets a series of targets and allocates resources toward meeting the goal of 100% carbon-free generation of electricity in New Mexico by 2045, after considering safety, reliability and costs to customers.

Nibert said such legislative proposals, and the shift away from fossils fuels, present some important questions for energy-producing states like New Mexico.

One speaker at the conference talked about technology that uses a closed-loop system where natural gas is burned but not released into the atmosphere. Nibert said even though the gas is burned and not released into the atmosphere, he said he questions whether such technology would be allowed under the terms of the Energy Transition Act.

“The speaker was just saying that when you create legislation, just be cognizant of the fact that you will be cutting off some of these things that might be done,” he said.

The transition toward renewable energy, Nibert said, also poses additional challenges to states like New Mexico that are heavily dependent on the extractive industries — oil, gas and coal.

Much of the state’s current surplus is credited with increased oil and gas activity in southeast New Mexico. Nibert said that in addition to getting to a carbon-free energy economy, state and local governments that depend on revenue from production need to find out how to fund that budget hole that will open up when there is less oil and gas production to be filled.

One area is the upkeep of the state’s roads, which is funded in part by the fuel tax consumers pay when they pay for gas at the pump. With a future full of more electric cars, New Mexico and other states, Nibert said, will figure out how to collect money from those drivers who drive more energy-efficient cars but still use the roads, just like those who drive traditional vehicles that run on gasoline and diesel.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.