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Obama Administration Releases National Solar Energy Plan
The Departments of Interior and Energy have announced the long-awaited final blueprint for solar energy development on public land in six Western states, including New Mexico. The document’s release is the culmination of a two-year public process, which engaged conservation groups, utilities and solar energy companies in an effort to develop a balanced approach that protects wildlife and critical lands while tackling the climate change challenge and moving our nation closer to meeting clean energy goals.
The plan identifies 17 solar energy zones covering 285,000 square miles as priority areas for large solar developments. An additional 19 million acres outside the zones are identified as potential smaller utility-scale solar sites on which firms can apply for waivers. The plan will expedite solar project approval while cutting some up-front costs for developers. The Interior Department will work with regional planners to link projects with transmission lines that carry electricity to substations. The Department has included financial incentives in the competitive leasing process.
New Mexico will now be able to proceed with development of a Solar Energy Zone in Dona Ana County. The Solar Zone near Las Cruces could produce more than 3,000 megawatts of power, by the Bureau of Land Management’s estimate.
Public lands hosted no solar projects when President Obama took office. The administration has since approved 17 major solar projects on public lands producing about 6,000 megawatts. By 2030, the areas identify in the solar road map will supply 23,700 megawatts, enough to run more than 7 million homes. The BLM will oversee the program. For more information, visit http://solareis.anl.gov
Independent Solar Testing Facility in Albuquerque
The Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) has opened its photovoltaics outdoor test field in Albuquerque. The facility is an extension of CSE’s existing solar research annex, which began in 2011. An additional outdoor CSE test site is under construction.
The purpose of the facility is to support PV module and component manufacturers in assessing the actual field performance and durability of their products and to allow systems integrators to obtain the data they need to meet ever-tightening performance and lifetime expectations. Obtaining test verification from the independent nonprofit Fraunhofer CSE can accelerate commercialization and establish bankability of these products.
Albuquerque offers over 310 days of direct sunshine, a solar spectrum consistent with typical utility-scale PV locations, and a local climate of spanning module temperatures greater than 50 degrees C over the course of a single day.
CSE had a booth at Intersolar North America 2012, a solar trade show held last month in San Francisco.
Potential Crisis in the Santa Fe National Forest
Last month the Forest Service announced its final decision for motorized routes in the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF). In many areas, the decision opens all roads to ATV’s and dirt bikes. Forest protection advocates say this will be devastating for the forest and other users.
Five years ago, citizen groups formed in response to the SFNF’s Travel Management Plan, which proposed ATV routes across sections of the forest and “ATV parks” in Glorieta Mesa, La Cueva and a large area of the Jemez Mountains.
State Legislators, Santa Fe County and City officials got involved in 2010, which resulted in the Forest Service releasing “Alternative 2.” This closed down superfluous roads, minimized potential user-conflict, and protected traditional culture, while still providing opportunities for off-roading and dispersed camping.
According to the forest advocates, the final modified decision will be disastrous for many areas. If upheld, they say the decision will, in effect, turn many areas into “Sacrifice Zones” where traditional uses such as grazing, piñon and wood gathering are curtailed. They also predict significant noise and accidents on narrow County roads by trailers and off-road vehicles, as well as increased fire risk, dust and an assault on wildlife.
A 45-day appeal period has begun. Citizen groups and environmental organizations plan to challenge the decision and seeking public support. They have asked people to contact SFNF Supervisor Maria Garcia at 505.438.5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know of your concerns. The Fire Service document in question may be viewed online at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5376148.pdf. For more information, visit: http://www.glorietamesa.org/contact-these-people.php
Hilltop Containing Archeological Site Bulldozed in Eldorado
A few months ago, a developer with a history of contentious projects bulldozed a road to the top of a hill in Eldorado, narrowly missing an important Pueblo shrine dating to the 1300s. Concerned neighbors reported the blading.
Eldorado resident Charles Hannaford, a professional archeologist, was involved in recording the site in 1998 and has given tours to the shrine. “I am especially sensitive to the fragile and irreplaceable nature of this piece of New Mexico’s heritage,” says Hannaford.
In a letter to Building and Development Supervisor Wayne Dalton of the Growth Management Department of Santa Fe County, Hannaford said that Joe Miller’s permit is for an agricultural “driveway” for running hogs and cattle. “You can imagine my shock when I discovered that Mr. Miller’s blading activities for his proposed “driveway” far exceeded the bounds of this permitting. The blade passed along the east edge of the shrine on the hilltop, exposing culturally-stained soil with further blading on the hilltop north of the shrine,” says Hannaford.
Miller has been planning to build several subdivisions along the US 285 South corridor. In March, after years of litigation, he received approval from the Santa Fe County Commission to build three single-family lots and a commercial lot on about 10 acres.
The archeological site is just north of the first entrance to Eldorado. American Museum of Natural History archeologist Nels Nelson knew of the site as early as 1912, when he performed excavations at nearby Chamisa Locita. The site is one of a limited number of known earth-navel type shrines important to the Pueblo religion and for its information potential. It has been deemed significant enough for inclusion with the nationally recognized Galisteo Basin Archeological Sites Protection Act.
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