Firstly, New Mexico is missing an opportunity for its key to get the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2045, drilling for geothermal energy.
Secondly, the state has one of the best geothermal energy resources in the country. Also, technological advances make this resource increasingly attainable; and it warrants increased focus from the industry.
The Energy Transition Act of 2019 set goals of attaining half of New Mexico’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030, 80% by 2040, and all by 2045.
Also, the state has progressed to the goal of renewable generation, mainly wind, providing 27% of production in 2020 compared to 6% in 2011.
However, coal and natural gas still fuel the largest share of New Mexico’s in-state electric generation. While coal has declined, it contributes nearly 40% of the production. Even with natural gas-fired production increasing to 30% by 2021, the retirement of coal plants has been delayed. As a result, the Public Service Company of New Mexico requested to keep a retiring plant open for several months to avoid blackouts.
Additionally, this is not uncommon in western states despite widespread aggressive renewable energy targets. The wind and solar industries are established as the renewable energies of choice. Coal and natural gas have provided the baseload power required for grid reliability and uptime.
As a result, New Mexico needs clean baseload power to complement increased generation from variable renewables, or it runs the risk of keeping more coal plants open. Geothermal provides this baseload power, and IT does so with a much smaller landscape impact than large-scale solar or wind farms.
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Moreover, oil and gas operations in the Permian, San Juan, and Raton basins make New Mexico’s workforce uniquely well-suited to produce geothermal energy. Also, similarities between the production of oil and gas and geothermal energy mean geothermal could provide a path forward for the state’s more than 28,000 oil and gas workers, who earned more than $2 billion in wages in 2019. While oil and gas have historically provided a stable career path, industry employment has fluctuated recently due to price changes and faces an uncertain future in the energy transition.
In addition, geothermal energy can only be produced in places where boiling water or steam naturally occurs close to the surface. Also, geothermal drilling has advanced much like oil and gas drilling. Companies like Fervo are pioneering and applying techniques developed in the Permian Basin to produce clean energy.
The geothermal development potential in New Mexico is substantial. It has the sixth-largest resource potential in the US. Most of this resource lies in the southwestern and north-central parts of the state. New Mexico’s geothermal potential remains largely untapped. It has only one utility-scale geothermal power plant, the Lightning Dock plant in the Animas Valley.
Finally, geothermal needs strong policy support at the federal and state levels for the industry to grow.