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Energy key to development

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Nuclear power could be critical for NM

By Harold Morgan

“You couldn’t pick a better industry to concentrate on.”
Energy was the topic for Jim Peach. His audience was the interim Economic and Rural Development Committee.
The Aug. 2 meeting was in Grants at the Cibola County Convention Center, which doubles as the county office building. Or maybe the county offices double as the convention center. Unlike the committee’s July meeting in Santa Rosa, a sign on the door said the committee was inside.
Peach spoke “from an economist’s perspective,” a good thing since he is a New Mexico State University economist. His focus was uranium, the appropriate emphasis given Grants’ location in the heart of the Grants Uranium Belt.
A thorough uranium review also came from John Bemis, secretary-designate of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
The afternoon uranium presentations attracted media, even Albuquerque TV station KOB, and brought the audience to about 35. No fireworks appeared and KOB’s Stuart Dyson soon disappeared.
Bemis began with the world energy situation. He quickly concluded the obvious, that more nuclear power is needed, and, therefore, more uranium, much of which should come from New Mexico. Especially in the Grants area, “public fear and misrepresentation” are major complications, Bemis said, comparing coal waste issues with nuclear, and arguing that coal causes much more trouble. Concerning safety issues, the industry is “very different than even in the 1970s,” much less the 1940s and ‘50s.
Renewables come with unexpected consequences. Wind turbines, for example, consume huge amounts of steel.
Sen. David Ulibarri, a Grants Democrat, echoed Bemis. In the first boom, “Everybody had jobs. Everybody was happy. The jobs can return, I emphasize again, as long as it is safe.” There is “a new industry” today. Legacy issues belong to the old industry.
Peach began by distinguishing between “economic growth,” or more of the same, and “economic development,” which changes the nature of society.
In his presentation, Peach wrote, “Energy (broadly defined) has many advantages as the basis for an economic development strategy.”
From mapping to distribution and extraction, energy employs around 30,000 New Mexicans, not counting WIPP, Urenco in Eunice, geothermal, and a Luna County biofuels project.
All counties have the potential to be involved, even Harding County which has had carbon dioxide production.
New Mexico is not running out of oil, Peach said, citing the continually moving horizon of reserve estimates. As the industry produces oil, it finds more.
The state is floating on natural gas, he said, with the “San Juan Basin contain(ing) the nation’s largest field of proven natural gas reserves” and being the nation’s “leading coalbed methane-producing region.”
Geothermal potential exists in 21 counties with solar potential in 20. Hydroelectric didn’t make the energy survey. However, in the 1970s, Peter van Dresser, argued that small dams could provide some power for northern New Mexico.
New Mexico should “make energy a central focus of its development strategy,” Peach suggested. Nuclear is a natural part of an energy sector.
Even better, I believe, New Mexico should have a development strategy.
The committee also heard about the host of small-scale incentive tools for new projects. One is the Local Economic Development Act, passed in 1994 to allow municipalities to do things such as build buildings for certain new or expanding companies.
The current fly in the LEDA ointment is no new money for the just completed budget year and none for FY12 which just started. The Economic Development Department will seek $8 million during the special legislative session if the agenda includes capital budgeting.
A large economic development challenge appears. The Richardson heritage is large, heavily subsidized projects and neglected development nuts and bolts.