PORTALES — Over the past month, Eastern New Mexico University has made a pair of moves to increase the university’s offerings in the area of renewable energy.
On April 19, its board of regents approved a resolution that identifies renewable energy as a priority, both for ENMU’s academic offerings and future facility upgrades. That followed an announcement at the board’s March 19 meeting that the university would be adding a renewable energy emphasis to bachelor’s degrees offered at ENMU.
“Eastern New Mexico is really one of the best places in the country for renewable energy with the wind and solar,” Regent Dan Patterson said. “Our job as a university is to educate students to go out and get jobs and be successful in the world of work, and this is one of the upcoming areas of jobs. It’s got the biggest job market in the country right now for the need for new employees and I think we owe it to our students that we provide the impetus for them to go out into the world and be able to fit into this market.”
The emphasis will include four lab courses and Jeff Elwell, president of ENMU-Portales and chancellor of the three-college system, said the university is searching for a faculty member to teach the additional courses. Those courses are scheduled to begin in the fall.
Elwell said the earliest an ENMU student could graduate with the emphasis in renewable energy would be December 2020.
“ENMU has to plan and be innovative to provide degrees that are relevant and prepare our students for future opportunities,” Regent Lance Pyle said.
Costs to the university associated with the new renewable energy emphasis are projected to be $95,910 in reoccurring faculty and operational costs, along with $237,621 in one-time startup costs to purchase and install lab equipment. Elwell said ENMU will request some financial assistance from the Legislature in January.
One key part of the resolution is the university is seeking to develop partnerships with local renewable energy providers in the industry.
“We’ve talked to a lot of people in the renewable energy market and they need more and more and more workers,” Patterson said. “People not only to help with the construction of the facilities but manage them as they’re built and to provide the services that are needed.”
Crystal Coffman, the director of business development for Pattern Energy, one of the companies ENMU is exploring partnering with, said there are needs for workers in the industry “across the board for anyone from project management to electrical to IT data systems.”
“It’s a growing field and people are very to difficult to find so it would be great to grow a pool of folks that are already trained in areas we’re already needing,” Coffman said. “It shortcuts having to re-train somebody where maybe they learned a different skill set.”
Pyle said starting in June the university will be holding monthly meetings with Pattern to determine the greatest areas of need in the field and how ENMU and its students could meet them.
Elwell said partnerships with Pattern or other companies could provide a job pipeline for ENMU students following graduation, as well as opportunities to bring people from the industry into the classroom to give students an idea as to what working in renewable energy entails.
Patterson said he envisions ENMU in the future offering a degree program dedicated to renewable energy and Elwell said the university could explore developing a large solar array to cut down or eliminate the university’s energy costs.
The university’s efforts are partly motivated by a growing move toward renewable energy statewide. During the past legislative session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Energy Transition Act, which sets a goal of 50 percent renewable energy in the state by 2030.
“It makes sense from an environmental standpoint and also a budget standpoint to do these things. So we’re hoping to be part of what the governor and Legislature are looking to do,” Elwell said.