Energy summit highlights renewable transition
Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce kicked off a new, annual energy summit in Santa Fe on Thursday to help connect Latino businesses with emerging opportunities in renewable energy development.
The two-day event, organized jointly with the U.S. Hispano Chamber of Commerce, is uniting a broad range of industry, including clean energy developers, electric utilities and some oil and gas companies to collectively analyze the challenges and progress in building a low-, and eventually, no-carbon economy in New Mexico and nationally, said Albuquerque Hispano Chamber President and CEO Ernie C’deBaca.
The national chamber’s participation helped attract industry leaders from across the country.
“It’s the first time the national Hispano chamber has partnered with a local chamber affiliate to jointly organize an industry-focused summit like this,” C’deBaca told the Journal. “This is just the first year we’re doing it, so this is an ‘inaugural event.’ We intend to continue organizing it as an annual conference in New Mexico going forward.”
Apart from panel discussions and presentations, the conference includes business networking and company “match-making” workshops.
New Mexico provides an ideal location for the summit, C’deBaca said, given its national prominence as the country’s second-largest oil-and-gas producing state, plus its aggressive efforts to completely transition the local electric grid from fossil fuels to 100% non-carbon generation by 2045.
NM at center stage
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham highlighted those things in a keynote speech Thursday morning to kick the conference off at La Fonda hotel.
The state, Lujan Grisham said, is “leading by example,” demonstrating that transformational renewable goals can be achieved while simultaneously limiting pollution from fossil fuels. It will take time to replace oil and gas with clean energy, she said, but in the meantime, New Mexico has imposed the strongest industry regulations in the nation to severely limit methane and other ozone-creating emissions.
“We can do both, and that’s what a transition looks like,” Lujan Grisham told summit participants. “We’re holding polluters accountable with rules and regulations,” while at the same time working to build a non-carbon economy.
The governor also touted state efforts to create a new hydrogen industry in New Mexico, using that fuel as a critical “bridge” to decarbonize more sectors of the economy, while also providing a clean-burning alternative for electricity to supplement the intermittency of solar and wind generation.
Some environmental groups, however, are protesting against the summit.
Youth United for Climate Crisis Action and the SouthWest Organizing Project called it a “greenwashing” event where corporate energy executives are promoting “false solutions” to combat climate change. Those two groups are co-coordinating protest actions, including a planned demonstration Friday afternoon on the Santa Fe Plaza, across from La Fonda, to commemorate Earth Day.
In fact, YUCCA activists briefly highjacked the conference spotlight Thursday morning, interrupting Lujan Grisham’s keynote address with chants and a protest banner before being escorted out of the assembly ballroom. It amounted to only a minor disruption, however, prompting the governor to praise free speech in America.
“We have the professionalism and courage to accept that as a productive way to get people’s attention, as long as it’s peaceful,” Lujan Grisham said.
Corporate sponsorship for the summit by Chevron – and by Public Service Company of New Mexico and national energy firm Avangrid – particularly riled environmentalists.
Apart from Chevron’s participation, YUCCA and SWOP believe PNM and Avangrid – which is seeking to acquire PNM in a $4.3 billion merger agreement – are doing little to actually transition the grid from fossil fuels to renewables, said Alejandría Lyons, an environmental justice organizer with SWOP.
Those groups also adamantly oppose hydrogen development, since the industry generally intends to use natural gas as a feedstock, pulling hydrogen molecules out of methane in a process that produces significant carbon emissions.
“As it stands now, we see New Mexico’s ‘energy transition’ as greenwashing,” Lyons told the Journal. “We want a much faster buildout of actual renewables, meaning solar and wind. And we want our voices heard, with seats at the table.”
Notwithstanding environmental opposition, PNM and Avangrid executives said their merger agreement could significantly accelerate the state’s transition to renewables.
Connecticut-based Avangrid, which has $40 billion in assets and operations in 24 states, is the third-largest renewable energy developer in the U.S. It brings significant financial strength and expertise to help PNM build out renewable infrastructure, said Pat Vincent-Collawn, chairman, president and CEO of PNM parent firm PNM Resources.
“When this merger is ultimately approved, New Mexico will be more prosperous because of it,” Vincent-Collawn told summit participants.
The state Public Regulation Commission rejected approval of the PNM-Avangrid merger last December. But the merger partners have appealed to the state Supreme Court to overturn the PRC’s decision, and both companies reaffirmed their commitment to plow forward during the energy summit.
“A merger agreement is often called a ‘marriage,’ because you need a shared sense of purpose and values,” Vincent-Collawn said. “… Times can get tough while you’re tying that knot, but despite the challenges, we remain committed to the promises we’ve made.”
Avangrid incoming CEO Pedro Azagra Blázquez said Avangrid is now joined at the hip with PNM.
“We’re proud of that marriage,” Azagra Blázquez told summit participants. “There are some other candidates we could marry, but we think we chose the right one.”