Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

4-3 Best Session Ever for Renewable Energy?

FRI, 4-03-09

SANTA FE - Although barely noticed by the media, renewable energy supporters feel very good about the legislative session just completed. One solar energy spokesman even announced, "We're pleased about everything that happened."
He had a point. The solar industry received favored treatment by lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson. Backers of some other renewable energy sources weren't happy that solar power received so much of the attention and they received so little.
For instance, a company that wanted to use methane produced by dairy cattle on the east side of the state, said it had trouble getting a welcoming ear from anyone in the administration, which was pushing solar so hard.
But according to representatives of the solar industry, it was the year New Mexico finally got on the renewable energy bandwagon. Interestingly, many other states think New Mexico has been on that bandwagon for quite awhile.
Very soon after becoming governor, Bill Richardson appointed an economic recruitment team that had renewable energy as a prime target. Armed with financial incentives passed by the 2003 Legislature, Richardson's team set out to lure solar companies from other states.
One of those states was Arizona, which wasn't accustomed to losing anything to New Mexico. It assumed that since it had the hottest weather anywhere, it was a natural magnet for the solar industry. But six months over 100-degree weather doesn't necessarily mean more solar power.
If that were true, Oregon wouldn't be so successful at attracting solar industries. Oregon is successful because it offers numerous incentives. The Arizona Legislature is trying again this year to pass a package of solar incentives but most of its lawmakers seem unable to understand why anyone would want to go anywhere else, especially to New Mexico.
Jim Colson, who was on Gov. Richardson's original economic team and then moved on to Phoenix to do economic development, says Phoenix didn't consider New Mexico as even being a competitor back then. Now Colson is president of site selection for a national economic development consultant.
A recent front-page article in the Phoenix Republic quotes Colson as saying that New Mexico no longer considers Phoenix a competitor in the battle to attract the solar industry. The Phoenix mayor now says that if the Arizona Legislature won't move, his city will go out on its own to attract solar business.
It's nice for New Mexico to be out in front on attracting solar business. Evidently Oregon is the only state leading us. Solar lobbyists have done a good job and spent big money promoting their cause.
Does that mean New Mexicans are getting the most efficient solar energy at the lowest prices? Some renewable energy advocates suggest we aren't. Now the competition will move to the federal level for the stimulus money that is becoming available. And don't be surprised to see further battles in New Mexico's 2010 Legislature.
This is the second year in a row that the Arizona Legislature has gotten all aflutter about New Mexico outperforming it in attracting an industry. Last year, it was film making.
When "3:10 To Yuma" was shot in southern New Mexico instead of southern Arizona, that was begging for a fight. Then when "No Country for Old Men," filmed in New Mexico, won the Oscar for best picture, Arizona became incensed.
But it didn't do anything. The Arizona housing market already was in free fall at this time last year and the Legislature decided it wasn't the time to add new expenditures to its budget. That likely will be its decision again this year as it strives to overcome the second biggest budget deficit in the nation.
Nevada has the biggest deficit at 37.6 percent. Arizona is second at 28.2 percent. New York is third, California fourth and Louisiana fifth.
It's nice to be giving Arizona at least a little competition.

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