PNM Renewables Plan Approved by the PRC

On Nov. 26, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved PNM’s renewable energy (RE) procurement plan, which will add 40 megawatts of utility-scale solar to the grid in 2015. The photovoltaic facilities will be constructed in central New Mexico at a cost of $79.3 million. PNM will also increase by 2 MW its subsidy program for customer-owned solar installations for institutional and business consumers that install 100-kilowatt to 1-MW systems. PNM’s customers pay a fee to offset the utility’s costs for RE development. That will rise to $3.63 per month in 2015.

The state’s public utilities are required to procure at least 15 percent of their electricity from RE sources by 2016. When the new facilities come online, PNM will be able to power about 40,000 homes from solar. With its wind, solar and geothermal projects, the utility expects to provide power for 150,000 average residential customers in 2016. Solar will amount to about 2 percent, and wind will amount to about 5 percent of the company’s energy portfolio. PNM’s plan continues to rely heavily on coal, natural gas and nuclear generation.

 

Santa Fe Climate Action Summit

Last month Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales convened the city’s first-ever Climate Action Summit, bringing together members of the Climate Action Task force and clean-energy experts to examine the city’s progress in the areas of water, energy efficiency, renewable energy and transportation. Several new initiatives were announced, including a water conservation program targeted at commercial users, continued implementation of energy-efficiency technologies and additional solar arrays at city facilities, the installation of EV (electric vehicle) car chargers around the city and a potential bike-sharing pilot program.

The audience let out a loud cheer when Mayor Gonzales announced that the city will look into options to own, design, install and administer its own electric utility and institute a community solar program. “I want to deliver affordable, renewable energy to Santa Feans who are renting homes, low-income homeowners, small businesses and those in historic districts where architectural demands present a challenge to installing solar systems,” the mayor said. “We can’t wait for others to take action on climate change.” At the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in June, which Mayor Gonzales attended, the nation’s mayors renewed their commitment to make their cities more resilient in the face of climate change by promoting energy independence and efficiency and developing renewable energy.

 

Los Alamos Board Strikes Down Net Metering Charge

The Los Alamos Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has struck down a controversial proposed net-metering surcharge for residents powering their homes with renewable energy (RE). The action sets an important precedent for RE in New Mexico, a first step toward what clean-energy proponents hope will become a statewide movement that would recognize RE as an economic engine for jobs in New Mexico and a valuable resource for electric utilities. A recent study from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada found that rooftop solar and other clean-energy systems installed will deliver $36 million in net benefits to Nevada ratepayers through 2016.

Residents, business owners and citizens turned out en masse at public hearings to protest the $12 monthly fee. The charge would have doubled the time to recoup the capital investments made by homeowners with solar. Los Alamos resident and member of the Los Alamos Sustainable Energy Network, Thomas Shankland, said, “It was a timely decision of the board to view residential solar and distributed generation on the Los Alamos County grid as an asset to the community and not a burden. By striking down a fee perceived as unfair, the BPU and the Department of Public Utilities in partnership with the community can secure progressive solutions to problems that face us all in modernizing and maintaining our power grid.”

 

Mazria Introduces Architecture 2030 District Model to Albuquerque

On Nov. 20, the Urban Land Institute of New Mexico presented a luncheon featuring keynote speaker Edward Mazria, architect, planner and founder of the internationally renowned, Santa Fe-based Architecture 2030 organization. Before an audience of building managers, property owners and developers, innovative business people, entrepreneurs and university students, Mazria introduced the national 2030 District model—a business case for sustainability—and discussed its successful impacts across the country.

Mazria’s research has reshaped the dialogue on how the building sector can reduce its carbon emissions. Urban environments emit 75 percent of global emissions. Mazria said there will be more than 900 billion square feet of new and redeveloped buildings constructed in cities worldwide by 2030. “We have a problem that needs to be solved—global warming. We need to phase it out from the urban built environment or all hell will break loose.” Mazria went on to say that, as electricity prices rise and solar prices decrease, solar is driving the trend of increased energy efficiency and decreased consumption. “Albuquerque, with the advantage of its solar potential, will be a disruptive district and lead the way,” he said.

Following Mazria, fellow architect Laurie Tarbell, a board member of the urban revitalization nonprofit, Downtown ABQ MainStreet and chair of the Albuquerque 2030 District Exploratory Committee, discussed Albuquerque’s emergence as a 2030 District, joining cities such as Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Denver and most recently, Dallas. The program is voluntary and engages a city’s public and private building sectors.

 

Clean Economy Summit – Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Albuquerque

The Carbon Economy Series will present the second annual Clean Energy Summit on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at Sandía Preparatory School, 532 Osuna Road NE. The summit will focus on sustainable living, how to shrink our carbon footprint and other climate change-related issues. It will be geared toward individuals, property owners, businesses, nonprofit groups, government and educational facilities that want to become more sustainable.

The weekend will offer a condensed version of the CES’s diverse programming, featuring local experts discussing and demonstrating regenerative agriculture and local farm-to-table food, raw & enzyme-rich food preparation, aquaponics, seed saving, beekeeping, greening the desert, Permaculture design, zero-waste practices, water stewardship, the “genius” grid, sustainable tourism and more. The cost is $99 per day. Some scholarships are available. For more information, call 505.819.3828 or visit www.carboneconomyseries.com

 

Navajo Junk Food Tax Approved

After two years of lobbying by the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance, on Nov. 21, Navajo tribal president Ben Shelly signed legislation that imposes a 2 percent sales tax on junk food such as cookies, chips and sodas purchased on the reservation. The changes go into effect in 2015. Money generated by the tax will fund projects such as farmers’ markets, vegetable gardens and exercise equipment in tribal communities. Jonathan Hale, a Navajo Nation Council delegate, is sponsoring a bill that would override President Shelly’s veto of bills that would have eliminated a 5 percent tax on fresh fruits and vegetables.

 

IAIA Awarded USDA Funds to Build a Performing Arts Center

The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe has been successful in its application for financial assistance from the USDA Rural Development Tribal College Initiative Facility Grant program. Dr. Ann Bartuska, deputy under secretary for Research, Education and Economics, presented a certificate of obligation for $145,302 to the school to help build a multipurpose fitness and performing arts center. Dr. Bartuska traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit Native schools and discuss with educators the instruction of future Native agricultural leaders. The IAIA is the nation’s only four-year fine arts institution devoted to contemporary Native American and Alaskan Native arts. In the last eight years, USDA Rural Development has provided over $1.6 million to IAIA to build other construction projects at the school, including the new science and technology classrooms and the new welcome center.

 

San Miguel County Restricts Oil and Gas Drilling

As a federal judge was questioning the constitutionality of Mora County’s oil-and-gas development ban last month, in an effort to protect the region’s scarce water supply and the health and safety of residents, San Miguel County Commissioners unanimously voted to impose strict requirements on hydrocarbon exploration and drilling. As a result, such activities are now restricted to a sparsely populated stretch on the eastern side of the county, and drilling companies will have to pay steep application fees, pay for pre-drilling assessments and post bonds, among other things.

Oil and gas groups and private mineral-rights owners may file legal challenges. Nearly one-third of New Mexico’s general funds come from taxes and royalties paid by oil and gas companies. An oil-and-gas lease on the western boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest netted $4 million in October. Conservation groups have threatened to sue over that sale. Also last month, the federal government declared oil-and-gas drilling mostly off-limits in the George Washington National Forest, west of Charlottesville, Virginia, a region that provides drinking water to nearly three million people, includes top agricultural counties and supports recreation and tourism.

 

Interstate Stream Commission Approves Gila River Diversion

On Nov. 24, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, appointed by the governor, decided to move forward with a controversial Gila River diversion project, ending 10 years of studies and meetings to decide on how to utilize federal funding and the water. The move could free up $62 million from the Arizona Water Settlements Act, some of which could go toward municipal conservation efforts. The water would be diverted into a storage system and then piped to as yet unspecified uses.

The issue is now in Gov. Martínez’s hands. She can accept or overturn the diversion and instead use the allotted funding for alternatives some say would meet the needs of cities and farms in southwest New Mexico at a fraction of the cost without saddling taxpayers and harming the river’s watershed and ecosystem.

Opponents, including Norman Gaume, the commission’s former director, who filed suit, alleging improprieties in non-public commission deliberations, say that the project will only yield a small amount of water, and the actual ongoing cost would overwhelm the ability of the state and local communities to pay for it. A state consultant has projected that cost at $575 million; an independent federal review projects it at $1 billion. The commission must now deal with permitting, endangered species and financing issues.

 

Residents Defeat Campbell Ranch Water Grab

On Nov. 14, the state engineer denied the company Aquifer Science LLC the right to pump hundreds of acre-feet of water annually from the Sandía Underground Water Basin. On behalf of dozens of landowners in the area, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NME LC) successfully argued that there was not sufficient unappropriated groundwater available to satisfy the application for water to develop a proposed 4,000-home residential community and 18-hole golf course in the East Mountains area near Albuquerque. “We are thankful that State Engineer Scott Verhines agreed with our experts and the decisions of prior state engineers,” said Bruce Fredrick, NME LC staff attorney and lead counsel on the case. “The application was submitted by a corporation that was formed and controlled by the Vidler Water Company—a company that speculates in water rights, owned by Pico Holdings of La Jollla, Calif. This win shows that with strong public advocacy the people can protect New Mexico’s most precious resource.”