In September, the state Economic Development Department hired Brendan Miller, 34, as its first green economy manager. His responsibilities include advising Gov. Bill Richardson’s new Green Jobs Cabinet. Born in New Jersey and educated at MIT and Harvard, Miller previously worked for a local property developer and a company that researched fuel-cell technologies.
SFR: Will renewable energy ever supplant fossil fuels in New Mexico?
BM: I don’t know. There is a significant change happening with the federal stimulus bill. That being said, our oil and gas industry is very important. The governor and the [Green Jobs] Cabinet want to see those jobs preserved. One other thing: Compared with coal, renewable energy creates about 40 percent more jobs per unit of energy. Wind jobs have already exceeded coal-industry jobs nationally.
A lot of politicians throw around the phrase ‘green jobs.’ What are they talking about?
Broadly speaking, it’s clean energy and clean technology. The kinds of things that fall under that are really high-end research and development—like advanced batteries—to the manufacturing of solar components to utility-scale renewable energy, which we’re hoping to export. Every business needs a whole range of experts, including accountants—we would consider those green jobs as well. Recycling and re-use businesses, those would also fall under green jobs.
So the guy who picks up my recycling has a green job?
Until a few years ago, the line was that solar and wind could never provide all the power we need. You don’t hear that so much anymore. What happened?
The technology has improved and gotten cheaper. I hear statistics that a 90-by-90 square-mile patch of New Mexico could provide enough solar energy to power the entire US.
But shouldn’t we cut our energy consumption for sustainability’s sake?
It’s going to be very important to conserve. But what I’m hoping is [sustainability] doesn’t mean shivering in the cold, in the dark. We can reduce our energy needs without mass suffering.
Wait—is mass suffering a possibility?
No, no, no. But we need something that works for regular citizens. Things that aren’t overly complicated, that don’t sacrifice our quality of life.
From your perspective, what’s the most exciting thing in the federal House stimulus bill?
There’s a lot of money for green jobs, workforce development and training. That’s competitive money. On the infrastructure side, there are loan guarantees for transmission. That’s very important for New Mexico. We need more [power] lines.
Is that the ‘green grid’ I’ve been hearing about?
It gets complicated. There’s long-distance transmission—high-voltage lines—and we need more of those. Then there is the smart grid. We think that with the national labs and their partners and so on, there is a real chance that New Mexico will be the first place to have a green grid.
What’s the difference between a ‘green grid’ and what we’ve got?
Our current grid was designed to deliver power from large central generating facilities out to consumers. In the future, people will be both producers and consumers of energy. It’s got to be more two-way. The other component is that the infrastructure of the grids needs to be much smarter at a local level. Solar and wind are intermittent sources; they’re not producing power all of the time. So we need to find ways to integrate that. Part of that is storage at the building level.
Buildings will turn into batteries?
Yes. There may be other kinds of storage [that are] needed.
Should we expect a bunch of new power lines?
It’s not going to be new lines. It’ll be new controls. You may see a few more lines in rural areas getting power from places where there’s significant solar and wind resources. There is a coordinated planning effort for that. It’s not like every Tom, Dick and Harry will be throwing up lines wherever they want.
You’re on the board of the Permaculture Credit Union. What’s that?
We push the boundaries of what financial institutions are willing to lend for. You can get a discount on your car loan if you have a high MPG rating. We also do very interesting mortgages for people that typical banks are afraid of. If you have an off-the-grid home, most banks are afraid of that.
Why the fear?
It’s a lack of familiarity. It’s not like they’re evil. If a home is off the grid, you may be concerned about your ability to resell that, if people aren’t able to pay their mortgage.
Are you off the grid?
No, I’m in town. But I do have a solar system on my roof.