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In the wake of coal plant and coal mine retirements in northwestern New Mexico, our community stands at a pivotal moment.

The impacts of these closures have reverberated through every aspect of our lives, prompting us to reassess and prepare for what comes next. Amidst the lingering uncertainty brought about by these changes, it’s crucial to recognize the opportunity that lies before us: the swift and decisive embrace of clean energy projects.

The transition to renewable energy, in part due to the state’s Energy Transition Act, represents more than just a shift in power sources; it brings a fundamental economic and environmental transformation. With several solar projects already permitted and shovel-ready, we can harness clean energy’s economic potential and propel our community toward a brighter future.

For years, advocacy efforts have championed renewables as the replacement economic driver, and we are realizing that vision. The solar projects have delivered hundreds of construction jobs, millions in tax dollars, and money for school districts.

Phase 1 of San Juan Solar, one of the local projects, is a $500 million investment in our community. With more renewable energy projects being constructed, jobs can continue over the coming years and we can become a center for energy storage. Tribal communities stand to benefit financially as well, with renewable energy projects planned and underway.

As our community moves on from its economic reliance on coal, we are witnessing a renaissance of sorts, northwestern New Mexico is becoming renowned not just for its natural beauty, but also as a destination for recreation and retirement.

The remarkable improvement in air quality serves as a tangible testament to the benefits of moving away from highly polluting coal facilities. The sight of clear, blue skies and the influx of outdoor enthusiasts, from mountain bikers to whitewater rafters, signal a transformation reshaping our community’s fabric.

These changes are not merely cosmetic. They represent a shift in mindset and priorities. By embracing clean, renewable energy, we are safeguarding our environment, protecting public health, cultivating new economic opportunities, and redefining our identity.

The conversations around renewable energy are no longer confined to advocacy circles but have permeated every aspect of our community, igniting hope and possibility — two vital ingredients for a thriving, sustainable community.

However, we must remain vigilant and proactive as we diversify our economy and address the legacy of dependency on fossil fuel derived-energy projects. The transition to renewable energy has challenges that need to be part of the planning dialogue, ranging from utility scale to regional grid decision-making processes.

We must ensure that the benefits of this transition are equitably distributed across our community, incorporating environmental justice and energy justice components. Additionally, we must continue to invest in infrastructure and innovation to further accelerate our journey toward a sustainable future.

In conclusion, the time to act is now. We have the momentum, the resources, and the will to embrace renewable energy wholeheartedly. Let us seize this opportunity to shape a future that is not only economically prosperous but also environmentally sustainable. Together, we are charting a course toward a brighter tomorrow for generations to come.

This is an op-ed written by SJCA’s Energy and Climate Program Manager Mike Eisenfeld, originally published in the Albuquerque Journal.

One Comment

  • Ed Mosimann says:

    Couldn’t agree more. The changing of the guard has been a big relief. Let me add that the battle to restore these fragile desert lands to pre oil and gas boom days is a long road that will take time and patience. Our skies may be cleaner but, big but, we need to repair local attitudes with regard to sustainable land use. Teaching our youth land manners is critical. The dumping, shooting, cutting new tracks with go-anywhere toys, is an ongoing problem that makes it difficult to enjoy our local lands. We need to find the pride in living here.

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