Luis Reyes Jr., CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, discusses renewable energy projects during a packed event with state officials at the Taos County Democratic Party headquarters on Paseo del Pueblo Sur on Sunday (Feb. 10). To Reyes Jr.’s right are Mark Gaiser of the state’s renewable energy program, James Kenney, secretary-designate of the New Mexico Environment Department, and State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard. At far right is Erin Sanborn, business manager with KCEC.
New Mexico is at a turning point. Under the direction of a new governor, the state is about to try shifting both its energy sources and its economy away from dependence on fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
Through the efforts started several years ago by Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, the town of Taos and Taos County, the region could help lead the way for the state to make the transition.
“I think what we are doing here and in the Enchanted Circle is the envy of a lot of places I go,” the cooperative’s CEO Luis Reyes Jr. told a crowd gathered at the Taos Democratic Party headquarters on Paseo del Pueblo Sur on Sunday (Feb. 10) to discuss energy policy. “There are a lot of communities in the West that are following what we are doing, to see if we can attain our goals.”
Reyes Jr. was at the event along with the state’s Environment Department Secretary-designate James Kenney, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard and the state’s Clean Energy Program Manager Mark Gaiser, all talking about the state’s energy goals.
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative began working several years ago on a plan to move most of its energy production to solar. That plan meant getting out of a contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which relies heavily on coal power, and partnering with Guzman Energy to start installing solar arrays around the county. KCEC and Guzman, which has offices in Denver, worked with two solar installation companies in Taos to handle all the labor for building the solar arrays, thereby creating local jobs.
“This partnership that Kit Carson put together with Guzman is exemplary. It’s being looked at as a model by rural electric cooperatives,” said William Brown, an earth scientist who helped form the nonprofit Renewable Taos.
What’s been accomplished in only a couple of years is nothing short of extraordinary for a small rural cooperative, Brown said.
KCEC currently has 10 megawatts of solar installed across nine communities in its service area, including Taos and Picuris Pueblo. Those solar arrays provide about 24 percent of its 30,000 customers’ daytime energy needs, Reyes Jr. said. Plans are in the works to finish seven megawatts more of solar power capacity by the end of 2019. The aim is to produce 100 percent of daytime electricity needs by 2022 (about 34 percent of the total needed energy), Reyes Jr. said.
That would put the cooperative well ahead of renewable energy goals recently set by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in an executive order she signed in January. The order calls for cutting statewide greenhouse gas emissions – the primary cause of climate change – nearly in half by 2030. By that same year, the order also requires the state’s 18 rural electric co-ops to generate 50 percent of their customers energy needs from renewable energy.
Reyes Jr., an electrical engineer by training, said the transition into new energy sources regionally and statewide needs to be comprehensive. “It’s not just renewable energy, it’s energy efficiency, it’s electric vehicles and having the infrastructure to support that. It is about transforming our economy.”
Distributed generation – having wind farms along with ground and rooftop solar arrays scattered around communities and counties instead of centralized in gigantic power plants – is the wave of the future electric grid, say experts. So is enabling more people to generate their own electricity and feed it back into the grid. “Instead of a one-way system with Kit Carson providing all the power, it should be two-way, where customers are selling energy to the utility,” Reyes Jr. told Sunday’s crowd. “That’s where the utility mindset is going to have to change.”
A bill introduced in the state legislature this week could help, reinstating a state solar tax credit that had lapsed under the prior administration. The tax credit reduces the upfront costs for homeowners and businesses to install solar energy systems.
The governor has created a task force to draft a road map for the state’s transition to renewable energy and an economy funded though other sources besides oil and gas leases, royalties and fees. The task force is expected to provide an initial report by Sept. 15.
James Kenney, who will sit on the task force as secretary-designate of the Environment Department, said citizens can help by participating as the state works on renewable energy projects and regulations. “We need your involvement in the regulatory process,” Kenney said on Sunday.
He said they’ll start having meetings around the state soon to address methane emissions, a by-product of natural gas drilling and considered a potent greenhouse gas.
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