After some renewable energy initiatives failed to make it past the governor following the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers and local experts are renewing their push to get geothermal funding through the 2024 session.
Geothermal energy is heat within the earth that can generate electricity, heat greenhouses or create hot springs and spas. This is already happening in New Mexico, and officials want to ramp it up further.
Local experts say geothermal energy can also help solve a gap that’s left by sun and wind based energy sources.
These experts and state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) explained this to other lawmakers on the Economic and Rural Development and Policy Committee on Wednesday. They talked about plans to expand and create geothermal energy opportunities through a 2024 legislative session bill.
Tom Solomon, retired electrical engineer who helps coordinate climate activist organization 350 New Mexico, said the bill would have two phases: the initial phase would focus on expanding existing geothermal resources like green houses and hot springs in the 2020s, and the second phase would drive the long-term development of advanced geothermal electricity in the 2030s.
New Mexico ranks sixth in the nation for geothermal resource availability, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
“New Mexico has got this great resource — No. 6 in the country,” Solomon said. “We would love to be able to develop it.”
Shari Kelley is a senior geophysicist and field geologist at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. She said in addition to having the appropriate climate, New Mexico’s oil and gas industry and national labs workforce can easily transfer their skills and expertise for geothermal projects.
She said challenges that stand in the way of geothermal are permitting delays, especially on a federal level, and high upfront costs for building geothermal facilities, though maintenance is low once set up.
The 2024 bill proposal comes after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed a bill earlier this year that would’ve created a geothermal energy research center. During the 2023 Legislature, just three representatives voted against the bill’s passage in the House, and no senators voted against it.
Multiple lawmakers expressed confusion following Lujan Grisham’s inaction, and Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Las Cruces) said on Wednesday again a lot of people were surprised she didn’t sign the bill.
The lack of action to address the climate crisis is something climate activists and lawmakers criticized Lujan Grisham following the 2023 legislative session.
They’ve called for environmental priorities to be at the forefront for the 2024 session.
Ortiz y Pino, a sponsor on the 2023 vetoed bill, said the state’s geothermal working group, which has been meeting for nearly two years now, worked out objections the governor’s office had with the geothermal bill. He didn’t specify what exactly the objections were.
“The governor has offered to make this part of her call in the upcoming session,” he said.
He said the geothermal experts and officials hope to present to the Legislative Finance Committee either this month or next to “make sure that we get their support for this appropriation.”
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez (D-Santa Fe) said there’s no reason other than financial restrictions not to take advantage of geothermal energy.
“I’m hoping this year we can do something that finally we can see it become reality,” she said.
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