When it comes to the future of energy, only one thing is certain: global demand for it will continue to increase. World energy consumption is projected to grow more than 25 percent between 2015 and 2040, driven in large part by developing nations where economic growth is strong, particularly in Asia.  The composition of energy resources that will meet demand is less certain. More than 40,000 New Mexicans work in “traditional energy” (electric power generation and fuels, as well as transmission, distribution and storage). At 5 percent of New Mexico’s total employment, the state’s proportion of traditional energy jobs is more than twice that of the nation. Another 4,500 work in energy-efficiency programs within the construction sector.
“New Mexico, being a natural-resource state, has basically every energy resource in abundance except for tidal energy,” said Anne Jakle, associate director of New Mexico EPSCoR, when interviewed for this report. “We are always going to be well-poised to take advantage of whatever our society chooses as its energy sources.”
But, Jakle warned, New Mexico’s unique opportunity to lead the nation in both conventional and alternative energy can be lost if we fail to act boldly. Energy discussions often focus on financial capital investments, such as expanded transmission of both renewable and convention energy. However, investments in human capital through education and training are equally urgent to New Mexico’s energy future. This chapter describes energy workforce issues in New Mexico, including an overview of industry changes.
Given the difficulty of predicting energy markets, how does New Mexico adequately impart high-value skills that enable workers to be adaptive among various energy jobs? How can colleges and universities prioritize recruitment and retention of well-qualified faculty with energy expertise? What science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses do future energy professionals need, and do New Mexico schools offer them? And how can we increase the number of overall STEM graduates? Like in other fields, young students often do not know about the range of certificates and degree programs available. How can we expand education partnerships in rural and tribal communities, where most of the energy jobs exist?
The energy economy creates direct and indirect jobs. For example, the numbers of construction jobs created by renewable energy projects are often many times more than the permanent positions. Similarly, oil and gas operations are indirectly supported by the specialized knowledge of accounting professionals and attorneys. From battery researchers at the national labs to oil field workers in the Permian Basin – or from windmill managers in eastern New Mexico to uranium enrichment operators in Lea County – many options exist. The types of jobs associated with energy, directly and otherwise, are too varied to fully cover in this chapter. But technology drives them all, so STEM education is more important than ever. (See Appendix I for related career information.)
About 20 percent of all American jobs are in STEM fields, with half open to workers who do not have four-year college degrees, according to the Brookings Institution. STEM knowledge offers attractive wage and career opportunities to many workers with a post-secondary certificate or associate degree. An estimated 80 percent of all jobs in the next decade will require STEM skills, most needing some level of college or training. Significant attention has been devoted in recent years to increasing the number of college graduates with STEM degrees, and there has been steady progress in New Mexico. College and university courses that align education with STEM job openings will continue to be critical to changing workforce needs, particularly in energy. The following treemap chart illustrates the volume of STEM, energy and information tech completions at the certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels at New Mexico institutions of higher education. In 2016, a combined total of 4,869 STEM and energy degrees were awarded, including certificates. Figure 21 shows the breakdown of total STEM degrees awarded, all majors combined. Figure 21 lists energy-related degrees (including credentials) by major field of study at higher education institutions in New Mexico. These broad categories are comprised of dozens of detailed degree specialties.
The best way to recruit STEM majors is to engage them when they are young. That can be in middle or high school. Or, higher education institutions deploy various tools to recruit students to STEM fields, such as targeting undeclared majors and reaching out to students during their first two years of college.
For example, the National Science Foundation funded a pilot program at the University of Central Florida to recruit STEM majors from the entering freshman class. Using SAT scores, the school determined which freshmen appear to have potential to do well in science or math. Then the school inundated them during their first semesters with STEM career information. Beyond the pilot program, all entering UCF students are encouraged to take a career planning course that includes information on STEM jobs.
In addition to recruiting students to STEM degrees, colleges and universities must hold on to them. Nationally, fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree. Completion rates are even lower for women and minorities. Courtney Puryear, a faculty member at New Mexico Junior College (NMJC) said the school’s Energy Technology Program was able to reduce student withdrawals by updating the curriculum to require college algebra. “Now that there is a prerequisite,” Puryear said, “I don’t see many drop outs because they are able to keep up with the required math in the program.”
Companies in New Mexico have every reason to help increase the number of STEM graduates. There are many industry-related strategies for increasing the number of STEM graduates. Some examples include:
In 2017, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), in partnership with New Mexico First and with U.S. Department of Energy grant funding, tapped the expertise and dedication of over 70 energy stakeholders to create a consensus-driven, 10-year “New Mexico Energy Roadmap.” The roadmap’s purpose is to strengthen and diversify the state’s energy economy and make it resilient to global changes.
In a four-part series of steering-committee meetings, participants identified 15 goals and accompanying strategies that touch virtually all conventional and renewable energy industries in New Mexico. The work addresses:
(See Appendix I for the Energy Roadmap’s list of concrete strategies to support these goals.)
A discussion on the alignment of New Mexico’s workforce with the state’s energy industries requires a snapshot of current and projected energy activities. Informing the discussion with recent history may be just as important, because doing so provides a sober reminder that energy markets can vacillate wildly, creating and shedding jobs with them. There are at least four energy sectors in New Mexico that create (or lose) jobs, all that potentially benefit from close cooperation with higher education systems: oil and gas, renewables, uranium and coal.
In the span of 10 years, oil and gas companies in New Mexico experienced significant ups and downs due to geopolitics and changes in technology, all of which influenced the industry’s impact on state budgets and its hiring needs. To consider the types of higher education programs the industry may require now or in the future, it is useful to quickly overview its recent past.
By the first half of 2008, the spot price of crude oil surpassed $130 per barrel, a record high, fueled by a combination of cheap credit, price speculation and growth in countries like China and India. With the collapse of global financial markets in the ensuing months, oil prices fell to below $40 per barrel by February of 2009. The same thing occurred with natural gas, which peaked at more than $8 per mcf (thousand cubic feet), and then fell precipitously with the financial collapse. As oil prices began their recovery in 2009, the price of natural gas stayed behind, due to an elevated supply caused by a fairly new technique of combining horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing. Deployment of the technique nationally led to the United States becoming the world's top producer of natural gas in 2011 and holding that status ever since. These techniques – which are highly controversial in some New Mexico communities and embraced in others – unlocked previously untapped oil reserves in southeastern New Mexico. In the following years, the rapid expansion of shale-oil production – coupled with changes in federal export regulations – meant that the United States was the world’s top fuel exporter in 2016 and 2017.
New Mexico appears to have emerged from the last downturn, having become the third-largest U.S. oil producer, but doing so was not without its costs.  In addition to production efficiencies described above, companies deployed a host of cost-cutting measures to weather low oil prices, from consolidating offices to using remote-control and automation technologies, both of which have meant laying off workers. In fact, despite vast oil production not seen in decades, there are 50,000 fewer people working in oil and gas extraction nationally since the last boom’s peak.
Lea County, for example, saw jobs in support activities for oil and gas extraction (those not directly involved in drilling and often requiring a commercial driver’s license) cut by almost half during the downturn, as seen in Figure 23. And while record oil output is generating much-needed revenues for the state’s general fund and permanent funds, it is apparent more oil can be produced with fewer workers than before the last downturn.
Technological advances, such as autonomous drilling rigs and drones are taking the place of many oilfield jobs, but that also means that new high-tech, high-skill jobs are being created. Today, workers with at least a bachelor’s degree account for more than half of the jobs gains in the industry, a shift driven by the demands for more skilled workers to operate the more advanced technology in oil and gas exploration, production, processing and transportation. “Potential employees who hold a degree are more marketable and tend to stick with companies longer,” said Courtney Puryear of NMJC. Both NMJC and San Juan College offer certificate and Associate of Applied Science programs that emphasize oil and gas industry-specific training. The website College Choice ranked New Mexico Tech’s petroleum engineering program first among 20 universities with well-known energy programs.
Barring unforeseen changes, the greatest share of the worldwide energy mix is expected to consist of fossil fuels for the next 10 years despite widespread concerns about climate change. These realities mean that the oil and gas industry will continue to create revenues and jobs in New Mexico.
Of the 5,623 New Mexico workers in electric power generation, 70 percent worked in solar electricity generation, and another 18 percent worked in wind. Based on economic trajectories of current energy resources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates U.S. power generation from renewables will more than double between 2017 and 2050, primarily via wind and solar, with an average annual growth rate of 2.8 percent. PV solar generation is projected to reach 14 percent of total electricity generation by 2050, with 53 percent of the total from utility-scale systems.
New Mexico is substantially rich in renewable energy resources, particularly wind and solar. In 2016, about 11 percent of in-state electricity production came from wind turbines. New Mexico ranks 15th among states for both installed electricity-generating capacity and number of wind turbines, with just over 1,000 wind turbines generating 1,700 megawatts.
Electric utility Xcel Energy has proposed adding nearly one-third more capacity with the $865-million Sagamore Wind Project planned for 150,000 acres in Roosevelt County. Unanimously approved by the state Public Regulatory Commission (PRC) in March 2018, the 522-megawatt wind farm will power 194,000 homes. Sagamore will create up to 300 construction jobs and more than two dozen full-time jobs.
Solar power provided about 3 percent of the state's generation in 2016. In 2016, New Mexico ranked 15th in the nation in installed solar capacity with about 700 megawatts, and additional utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities are being developed. New Mexico’s largest PV solar project to date is the $260 million, 1,400-acre Roswell and Chaves County Solar Energy Centers, built by NextEra Energy Resources. The facilities can generate a combined 140 megawatts, enough to power more than 40,000 homes. Through a 25-year contract, Xcel Energy will purchase electricity from the facilities for its New Mexico and Texas customers. In line with the latest estimate that utility-scale solar systems create two installer jobs per megawatt, the facilities created about 300 jobs during construction and five permanent jobs.
About two-thirds of states use more electricity than New Mexico, and the Land of Enchantment produces more electricity than it uses. Thus, New Mexico is a net supplier of electricity to neighboring states. With so much renewable energy potential, and with demand for low emissions energy increasing, New Mexico has a tremendous opportunity to sell more electricity to other states. What’s needed is more transmission capacity to carry the power to other locations. Multiple projects are underway to attempt to address this need.
Among the economic-base jobs New Mexico economic developers and others have tried to lure to the state are those in solar manufacturing. Starting in 2009, Schott Solar employed 250 Albuquerque-area workers for PV panel fabrication, but the plant closed in 2012, amid growing competition from low-cost Chinese panel producers. Most manufacturing of solar panels, as well as wind turbines, requires rare-earth metals, of which China produces 85 percent, and Chinese manufacturers do not face the same kinds of environmental rules, such as those relating to the disposal of toxic wastewater, as their U.S. counterparts. Today, China produces two-thirds of the world’s solar panels, as well as half of the world’s wind turbines.
Another notable resource in New Mexico’s renewable portfolio is geothermal energy, a process of utilizing hot water below the ground to operate an electricity-generating turbine. In late 2013, Cyrq Energy Inc. began supplying 4 megawatts of electricity to Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) with its Lightning Dock geothermal plant near Animas. Construction of the $43 million facility called for 100 construction jobs and eight full-time jobs when it became operational. Cyrq Energy announced in fall 2017 that it would be undertaking a $50 million expansion of the facility, essentially doubling its capital investment, to provide 10 megawatts.
Degree programs at New Mexico community college provide training in these areas. Santa Fe Community College offers a certificate program in solar energy, preparing students to “design, plan, install and troubleshoot photovoltaic solar electric energy systems.” Students in Navajo Technical University’s Energy Systems program learn the “fundamentals of electricity, magnetism, photovoltaic electrical systems, and wind generation.” Central New Mexico Community College also offers a concentration in photovoltaic installation in its electrical trades certificate program. And at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, the wind technology program offers real-world experience through certificate and degree programs. Outside the classroom, Tucumcari students are able to conduct troubleshooting, preventive maintenance and repairs on an actual 1.5-megawatt wind turbine.
There are at least four ways nuclear energy potentially affects New Mexico’s workforce: uranium mining (currently halted statewide); uranium enrichment (currently underway in the southeast corner of the state); storage of nuclear waste materials (currently underway outside Carlsbad); and power production via small modular nuclear reactors (proposed projects). All these activities spark a mix of support, challenges and controversy.
Regarding mining, nearly one-third of all U.S. uranium resources exist within New Mexico’s boundaries. However, virtually no ore has been mined in the state since 1990, due in part to lower ore prices and primarily to environmental issues, such as groundwater contamination and serious health impacts. Currently, about 89 percent of the uranium delivered to U.S. nuclear power plants comes from other countries. Some people advocate that more uranium come from inside U.S. borders – and New Mexico in particular – while others point to past environmental and health hazards and thus oppose a return to uranium mining in the state. At least one major effort is underway: Energy Fuels Inc., the largest U.S. uranium producer, acquired the Roca Honda Project near New Mexico’s Mt. Taylor. If approved, the project would produce as much as 25 million pounds during a nine-year mine life and employ up to 250 people. The project is in the permitting and regulation phase, with a decision expected in 2019.
Regarding uranium enrichment, New Mexico’s Lea County is home to the nation’s only uranium-enrichment plant. The centrifuge-based plant, URENCO USA, began operations in June 2010 and now produces enough enriched uranium to fuel over 6 percent of the total U.S. demand for electricity. URENCO USA employs approximately 230 full-time employees and 100 contractors. Many of URENCO USA's initial hires in operations were within the U.S. nuclear power industry or directly from the U.S. Navy's nuclear program. with about 350 permanent positions. Higher education and other workforce training programs were established in New Mexico to prepare residents to perform many of the URENCO jobs. Through outreach and programming with local colleges and universities, an internship program, and in-house training programs, local residents have become primary candidates for future employment. Today, the company reports that 70 percent of hires are local residents. 
The nuclear enrichment industry experiences ups and downs that potentially affect workforce needs. Demand for URENCO USA’s product steadily increased until March 2011, when an earthquake-induced tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. Japan shut down its nuclear fleet of 54 reactors, which represented about 13 percent of the world’s nuclear energy-generating capacity. Shortly thereafter, Germany pledged to phase out its reliance on nuclear power by 2022. Since then, Japan has brought a handful of reactors back online, and another 12 are expected to be operational by 2025.
In an interview with the Hobbs News-Sun, Helmut Engelbrecht of URENCO USA’s parent company, expressed his opinion that within years, society will overcome the “consequences of Fukushima” and growth in the nuclear industry will resume. URENCO USA is licensed to further expand the site if market conditions improve and, with a license change, could enrich uranium to support new nuclear technologies like accident-tolerant fuels and small modular reactors. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates in its 2017 International Energy Outlook that nuclear power will be the world’s second fastest growing source of energy (after renewables), with consumption increasing by 1.5 percent per year between 2015 and 2040. If these projections are accurate, there are potential workforce implications for New Mexico.
Regarding storage of nuclear waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside Carlsbad is the nation’s only underground repository for the permanent disposal of radioactive items that are part of the nation's nuclear defense program. Operating since 1999 and regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy, WIPP employs 1,100 people. About 12 miles north of the WIPP site, between Carlsbad and Hobbs, a new effort is being led by the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance to create a facility to house spent nuclear fuel rods (a waste product from commercial nuclear power production). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced in March 2018 that it will begin reviewing the interim-storage plan, which aims to store the country’s entire backlog of spent fuel in 10,000 subsurface canisters on 288 acres. After a multi-year review process, if the NRC approves the controversial facility’s 40-year license, the company has said the project would require approximately $2.4 billion in capital investment and create about 150 permanent jobs. The facility could begin operations as early as 2022.
Regarding production of nuclear power, several companies are interested in manufacturing small modular reactors (SMRs). These nuclear-fueled power plants produce no greenhouse-gas emissions and can be used in remote areas with limited water, such as New Mexico. A 2016 study investigated the feasibility of deploying SMRs in New Mexico, concluding that doing so would create economic benefits to the state, including construction and operations jobs and significant property-tax revenues for the region where a plant is located. On the downside, the report pointed to high capital costs, regulatory burdens and use of water. As yet, no SMR has been licensed or constructed in the U.S.
It is not the intent of this paper to endorse or oppose this mix of activities related to nuclear energy; those decisions are for the people and policymakers of New Mexico – as well as federal regulators. However, the volume of current and potential activities points to possible workforce implications and future requests to higher education systems.
Currently, academic programs include NMJC’s nuclear emphasis in its energy technology certificate and Associate of Applied Science programs. The program combines radiological handling, which had previously been specific to WIPP, and nuclear technology, which can prepare technicians working for URENCO USA. The University of New Mexico (UNM) offers the only degree-granting nuclear engineering program in the state, as well as surrounding Southwest states. The website College Choice ranked UNM 20th out of 25 universities with nuclear engineering programs. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) topped the list.
Coal is most abundant in northwest New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, supplying two coal-fired power plants in the area for decades, but both coal production and electricity generation from coal are on the decline. In order to comply with federal environmental regulations, as well as an agreement with the PRC, PNM shut down two of the four units at the San Juan Generating Station in late 2017, with a commitment to shut down the other two by 2022. Local leaders estimate there will be a loss of at least 650 direct jobs at the San Juan Generating Station and the San Juan Coal Company, along with almost 1,000 indirect jobs that are related to the plant and mine. Four years earlier, the Four Corners Power Plant, owned by Arizona Public Service Co., shut down three of its five units for similar reasons. Navajo Mine, owned by the Navajo Nation, is the sole supplier of the Four Corners Power Plant and employs approximately 350.
As U.S. coal demand for electric utilities shrinks, replaced largely by natural gas and renewables, community and tribal leaders in the San Juan Basin region have investigated other economic opportunities for coal reserves. Getting the coal to other markets, such as the European Union, Mexico or Asia is difficult due to transportation and other barriers. Coal’s decline in the region is one reason area stakeholders are exploring other assets for job creation. The San Juan Basin has significant natural gas reserves. Efforts are underway by Four Corners Economic Development Inc. and others to recruit petrochemical and plastics manufacturers that could use natural gas in their manufacturing process.
Successfully transitioning many workers from coal mining and coal-based utility power production will depend greatly on the collaborative intervention of many community organizations. Partners will likely include local higher education institutions and the local office of the Department of Workforce Solutions, which provides dislocated worker services. (See Chapter 4.)
Derrick Platero, a first-generation college student, grew up in Farmington with a passion for understanding physics. Derrick had not considered college until 13 years after his high school graduation when his fast-food management career stalled. He began his higher education journey at San Juan College, and from there was eager to learn what other opportunities were available. Engaging in student clubs such as SACNAS – the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science – opened new possibilities for Derrick. Through SACNAS, Derrick was able to attend national science conferences where he presented research and networked with STEM professionals. His fellow students in SACNAS encouraged and supported his interests.
When he moved on to New Mexico State University to pursue a degree in geosciences, he again relied on student groups to help ease the transition to a new community and the rigors of a new school. Ultimately, Derrick was one of a handful of undergraduate students selected for the 2016 EPSCoR STEM Advancement Program. Derrick recommends that students get involved on campus, engaging with other students and faculty from the start. This engagement will help students take advantage of the emotional and financial resources that are available that can open new doors and opportunities.
When New Mexicans imagine the economy of our future, most envision a wide array of jobs that are interesting, pay well and engage our people to stay in the state. However, when problems like “brain drain” deplete New Mexico’s talent pipeline, the labor force that remains must increasingly compensate for the absence. The higher education system’s ability to produce graduates who are valuable to the labor market relies on continuous engagement with employers. In what ways can employers more effectively inform the development of courses and degrees that meet their needs? How might community colleges and universities incorporate structured skills programs into their two- and four-year degree plans? Campuses may also consider hosting satellite one-stop centers that provide skills-assessment and employment services.
Additionally, on-the-job and other skills-based training is equally critical to New Mexico’s current and future workforce. How can educators, workforce developers, and employers coordinate to meet today’s immediate needs and tomorrow’s desired future? While this chapter lays a foundation for answering that question, clues also lie in other parts of the report. Chapters 5 and 6 each address specific workforce needs for two critical New Mexico industries, healthcare and energy. Chapter 1 offers insights into direct worker training opportunities afforded through community colleges. And the fundamental ability to collaborate across institutions without duplicating efforts is a key topic of Chapter 3. Committed New Mexicans, coming together across interest areas, can find paths forward to advance our future.
 (U.S. EIA, 2017)
 (U.S. DOE, 2017)
 (U.S. DOE, 2017)
 New Mexico EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) is an organization “building the state’s capacity to conduct scientific research and cultivating a well-qualified STEM workforce, while supporting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” according to its website.
 (Rothwell, 2013)
 (Koebler 2010)
(Georgetown 2016), (American Council on Education, 2010)
 (N.M. Higher Education Department, 2014)
 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2017)
 (University of Central Florida, 2012)
 (President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012)
 (Sandia National Laboratories) Sandia National Laboratories. http://www.sandia.gov/careers/students_postdocs/internships/
 (New Mexico State University)
 (EMNRD, 2018)
 (O’Brien, 2008); (U.S. EIA, WTC, citing Thomson Reuters, 2018)
 (U.S. EIA, natural gas, 2018)
 (U.S. EIA, 2016)
 (U.S. EIA)
 (Benton, 2016); (Robinson-Avila, 28 Aug. 2017); (Mose, 2018)
 (U.S. BLS, 2018)
 (Robinson-Avila, 11 Aug. 2017); (U.S. EIA, 2017); (Robinson, 2018); (N.M. State Land Office, 2017) Note: More than 90 percent of the state’s $16 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, which benefits public schools, public universities and hospitals, has been derived from lease and royalty payments from oil and gas operations on State Trust Lands.
 (Georgetown, 2016)
 (College Choice) Texas A&M University, 4; Texas Tech University, 11; the University of Tulsa, 12; the University of Oklahoma,14; and the University of Houston, 15. The rankings are based on a number of factors, including student surveys, graduate success rates, and other publicly available data.
 (Collins 2018); (U.S. EIA)
 (U.S. EIA, 2018)
 (U.S. EIA)
 (American Wind Energy Association, 2017)
 (Sapin, 2017)
 (Sapin, 2017), (Xcel Energy, 2017)
 (Stelnicki, 2017)
 (U.S. EIA)
 (Hayden, 2016)
 (The Solar Foundation, 2017)
 (U.S. EIA)
 (Robinson-Avila, 2012)
 (Bradsher, 2013), (Nunez, 2014)
 (Pham, 2017)
 (Villagran, 2014)
 (The Grant County Beat, 2014)
 (D'Ammassa, 2017)
 (N.M. Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department), (Ulmer-Scholle)
 (U.S. EIA)
 (Energy Fuels Inc., 2016)
 (Energy Fuels Inc., 2016); (Strathmore Resources, 2016)
 (Mining Weekly, 2018)
 (Allen, 2014)
 (Sexton, 2018)
 (World Nuclear Association, 2017)
 (Silverstein, 2017); (Sexton, 2017)
 (World Nuclear Association, 2017)
 (Silverstein, 2017)
 (U.S. EIA, 2017)
 (U.S. Department of Energy, 2017)
 (U.S. DOE, 2017)
 Once the fuel used in a nuclear reactor’s fission process is “spent,” the byproduct is highly radioactive material. Spent fuel rods currently reside at nuclear-power facilities across the country, because there is no permanent solution for their disposal or reuse. (Heaton, 2018)
 (Hayden, 2017)
 (Holtec International)
 (N.M. Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, 2016)
 (Economic Development Corporation of Lea County)
 (Robinson-Avila, 2015)
 (U.S. EIA, 2017)
 (Paskus, 2018)
 (Four Corners Economic Development Inc., 2017)
 (Ringle, 2013)
 (Smith, 2017)
 (EMNRD, 2015)
 (Unsicker, 2018)