Grants Available for NM Centennial Gardens

The New Mexico Centennial has issued a call for proposals for the Centennial Gardens Program. Grants will be available to support school and community garden projects in 2012 at levels of $2,500, $5,000 and $10,000. Applicants must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or nonprofit K-12 school that is developing or currently maintaining a garden project that will help communities engage with fresh fruits and vegetables. Garden projects may be at any stage of development: planning, construction or operation. Priority will be given to both limited-resource communities and to projects that demonstrate strong collaborations and community support. Relationships with food banks or other outlets to distribute food to New Mexicans in need are a plus. Applications must be received by 5 pm on January 13. Call 505.984.2012 or visit www.nmcentennial.org

 

Rare Bumblebee Rediscovered in NM

A team of scientists from the University of California, Riverside recently rediscovered the rarest species of bumblebee in the US, last seen in 1956, living in the White Mountains of south-central NM. Cocktrell’s Bumblebee is one of 50 species of bumblebees native to the US, according to Douglas Yanega, senior museum scientist at UC-Riverside. Yanega pointed out that Cocktrell’s Bumblebee is known from an area largely composed of protected national forest and tribal lands less than 300 square miles, giving it the most limited range of any bumblebee species in the world. The bee was collected along a highway north of Cloudcroft last August.

Recently the UN reported bee losses of up to 85 percent in some areas of the industrialized northern hemisphere, possibly caused by pesticides, pollution and parasites.


Japanese Corporation Invests in New Mexico Smart Grid Project

The Tokyo-based conglomerate, Mitsui, will invest $12 million in the Tres Amigas electricity hub being constructed in Clovis, NM. The project’s smart grid technology aims to efficiently allocate power generated from the three main power grids in the US. Construction on the project is set to begin on a 22-square-mile site this year, with initial commercial operations planned for 2015.

An additional benefit of Tres Amigas, according to David C. Stidham, senior vice president and CEO of Tres Amigas, is that there will be additional wind and solar farms built in the region once construction begins. Stidham said there have been instances in Texas where wind turbine farms were idled because wind transmission lines were overloaded and there was no room on the grid for their energy.

A consortium of Japanese companies is partnering with US researchers on other smart grid projects at Albuquerque’s Mesa del Sol and in Los Alamos. Mitsui intends learn from the Tres Amigas project to develop similar operations in Japan, where smart grid technology is a focus, as parts of the country are closely monitoring daily power consumption and limiting use since a massive earthquake and tsunami last March.

CRELA’s North and South Cluster projects are to include 380 wind turbines, which have the potential to generate 570 megawatts and $150 million annually in pre-tax revenue. “Not only will this benefit landowners, it will produce 100 permanent jobs for the area,” Stout said.

 

Wind Energy Projects Underway in Eastern NM

More than 70 landowners from Curry, Quay and Union counties attended the third annual Coalition of Renewable Energy Landowner Associations (CRELA) meeting last month in Tucumcari. CRELA is comprised of several wind power associations in eastern NM, representing 2,000 ranchers on over 2 million acres of land. The association’s chairman, Paul Stout, said that wind energy projects underway would eliminate the stumbling block for wind farms to transfer energy to national markets. “There have been new developments in transmission line and market availability since the footprints were first researched,” Stout said.

 

According to Sarah Cottrell-Propst of Clean Line Energy Partners, the project would have a lower land usage than other transmission line projects due to the smaller tower sizes and fewer converter relay stations. The project is estimated to cost $2.5 billion. “Along with funding for construction, land acquisition and right-of-way negotiations, commercial operation could begin by 2018,” said Cottrell-Propst.

 

LANL Researches Climate Change and Biomass

Southwest Megadroughts

The mysteries of climate change became a little less mysterious thanks to work by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers digging around in the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Working with an international research team, the scientists unearthed a 260-foot-long sediment core that peered back in climatological time to the world as it existed between 360,000 and 550,000 years ago. According to their findings, the southwestern region of the United States apparently undergoes “megadroughts” – warmer, drier periods lasting hundreds of years or more. These megadroughts appear in cycles, with the most recent one comprising a present-day period that included the historic Dust Bowl. If their research is correct, people in the Southwest could be in for cooler, wetter weather in the future, unless the cycle is affected by increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses.

Unlocking Biomass Energy

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers are trying to rearrange the puzzle pieces preventing conversion of non-edible biomass such as cornstalks and switch grass into ethanol, a useful biofuel.

Plant cell walls are made up of layers of densely packed molecules. Because of this sheet-like arrangement of layers, it’s difficult for enzymes that promote conversion of bulk plant cellulose into fermentable sugars to attack interior layers of material. Consequently, current conversion methods rely upon the use of costly, potentially toxic materials to break down biomass.

Los Alamos chemical modeling showed that cellulose can become vulnerable to enzymatic attack if pretreated with cost-effective and relatively benign ammonia.

Subsequent research showed the ammonia pretreatment increases conversion efficiency five times over normal methods, reducing potential cost barriers to biomass conversion.

 

Fighting for Our Future: Youth Climate Action

 

Last month “Youth Allies,” students from Santa Fe High, Capital High School, Albuquerque Academy, St. John’s, Mesa Lands Community College and United World College marched from the Roundhouse to the PERA building, where the Environmental Improvement Board was considering an industry request to repeal climate change regulations, including a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. That rule, which had been approved by the previous EIB, would limit carbon dioxide emissions from large electric utility companies and oil and gas refineries. The Board is expected to hand down its decision on March 5th.

 

At one of the 10 days of hearings, Dr. David Gutzer testified that if we continue to emit carbon emissions, we are essentially taking on a “gigantic carbon experiment on our climate and it will have significant global warming impacts…By mid-century, a business-as-usual scenario would leave behind historic weather variability. What we bequeath to our children and grandchildren will be a climate with much more drought here in NM.” Gutzler also talked about wildfires, crop losses and other climate impacts. “Whether climate change exists or not is irrelevant,” said a Tri-State Generation and Transmission attorney.
Tri-State’s Vice-President for Environmental Affairs testified that the costs of complying with Rule 100 would be prohibitive. Co-counsel Steve Michel of Western Resource Advocates, pointed out that, with the provisions to limit price spikes, compliance costs would be less than two-tenths of one percent of annual revenues for Tri-State.

 

Gov. Martinez’ administration and industry groups are also seeking to overturn regulation that authorize NM to participate in the Western Climate Change Initiative, a regional response to climate change. Gov. Martinez did not wait for the decision before joining several other right-wing Western governors to pull out of the Initiative in November 2011.

 

Albuquerque Rolls Back Energy Code

 

Six months after Gov. Martinez’s administration rolled back state building codes adopted under Gov. Richardson and touted as some of the greenest in the country, Albuquerque city councilors have narrowly agreed to roll back that city’s code, which was intended to make Albuquerque an energy conservation leader. The code was in line with the proposed 2012 international code. It called for making city buildings 5 to 19 percent more efficient.

 

Cricket Appel, executive director of the US Green Building Council-NM said, “The impact of increased energy costs will particularly burden low and moderate income families and small businesses who are likely to occupy older housing or newer structures built at the lower standard.” Supporters of the previous code had also argued that it would help reduce pollution from the region’s coal-fired power plants and generate more jobs.

 

Proponents of the new code say it encourages development. Albuquerque Mayor Berry, in a statement, said, “This new energy code permits homes, offices, stores and warehouses to be built more cost-effectively and energy-efficiently. The code also puts Albuquerque on a level playing field with other cities.”

 

The councilors voted for the measure along party lines, ending in a 5-4 vote. Those who voted in favor suggested that builders and homebuyers who want to pay for more energy efficiency could still do so.