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Generation Green

New Mexico’s youth may be the state’s best chance for transforming its economy—and future

September 30, 2009, 12:00 am

There are many signs of Gov. Bill Richardson’s long support for green energy, Brendan Miller, the state’s first green economy manager, notes. The governor declared New Mexico the Clean Energy State in 2004 and, in January, issued an executive order establishing the Green Jobs Cabinet [SFR Talk, Feb. 4: “Green Job No. 1”].

“The Green Jobs Cabinet was really about taking the next step [and answering the question]: What’s the connection between our economy and the green economy?” Miller says.

For the state, the definition of green jobs, according to Miller, comes down to a simple one-liner: “Family-supporting career-track jobs that directly contribute to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.”

That definition applies to jobs within industries such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, recycling, ecotourism and sustainable agriculture. But, he says, it also includes people working on any company’s environmental compliance, waste reduction or energy efficiency. “You have those jobs in pretty much every industry,” he says.

Green jobs are an important—and emerging—part of the state’s economy for three reasons, he adds. Not only is the United States striving toward energy independence and the recession driving the need for job creation, but environmental issues—in particular, climate change—have people worried.

“People are very concerned,” he says, “and are looking for solutions that reduce [carbon] emissions, protect our environment and continue to allow our economy to thrive.”

And the industry is growing. Miller points to a June 2009 study from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which shows that between 1998 and 2007, green jobs grew by 50 percent in New Mexico—25 times the rate of overall job growth. According to the same study, the state also attracted $148 million in venture capital in the past three years, more than half of which has been invested in clean energy.

The growth is impressive, but the numbers themselves remain relatively small. Statewide, in 2007, the “clean-energy economy” accounted for 4,815 jobs, 577 businesses and 95 patents.

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Charlotte Jusinski

According to Brendan Miller, the state’s green economy manager, there are green jobs in every industry.

In a brand-new report slated for delivery to the governor, the cabinet offers a slew of recommendations. These range from incentivizing renewable energy, moving renewable energy to markets outside the state, offering predictable statewide incentives for solar, offering incentives to solar manufacturers willing to locate in the state, expanding green-jobs training programs, developing New Mexico as an ecotourism destination and developing low-carbon transportation jobs.

Some of the pressure to develop green jobs is coming from the federal government.

“The state energy department is receiving multi-millions of dollars that will basically be granted out to local communities, cities, towns and tribes for energy efficiency and clean-energy projects,” Miller says. There also is money for green-job training, and the Finance Authority received funds to weatherize low-income homes.

In early September, US Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, both D-NM, announced that the US Department of Energy released $1.3 million in funds to six counties and cities in the state from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Santa Fe County received $50,000.

There are also federal funds available for high-tech research and development, such as the Smart Grid Demonstration Project. In August, the state submitted a proposal to win $50 million to construct five such demonstration projects across the state. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set aside $4.5 billion for the development of transmission systems that would minimize environmental impacts and increase efficiency nationwide; the project also would require matching funds from private and public partners.

Unlike some traditional job development, green jobs can also help rural communities. Sure, solar-panel component factories are great for cities such as Albuquerque, and Santa Fe has its fair share of green-building contractors and solar companies. But wind farms and solar fields definitely benefit rural communities, Toni Balzano, public information officer for the state’s Economic Development Department, says.

“New Mexico is really plagued with getting jobs for rural communities, but about two weeks ago, wind turbines in Estancia provided jobs for 10 people,” she says. “That may not sound like a lot, but that is a lot for a town that size.”

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