June 2016

Newsbites – June 2016


“Internet of Things” Lab Connects Business, Education and Technology

The term “Internet of Things” (IoT) describes the rapidly expanding network of machines and appliances, medical and environmental monitors, vehicles, and even homes that use connectivity to collect and exchange information.

VIZZIA Technologies is a Santa Fe-based provider of technology solutions for healthcare organizations. VIZZIA’s IoT project began in 2015 when the company received funding from the Venture Acceleration Fund, an award administered by the Española-based Regional Development Corporation. VIZZIA is now partnering with the UNM School of Engineering to launch the IoT Laboratory and the beginning of a unique curriculum. The Lab prepares students for high-tech job opportunities through real-world and hands-on education by testing various types of sensor systems and their performance in various applications.

“New sensor systems are being developed at a fast pace all around the world,” explained Andrew L Halasz, VIZZIA’s president and CEO. “It is estimated that there will be 20 billion sensors in operation by 2020. Having an active testing program ensures we will know the best systems to deploy for our clients while also providing a tremendous learning environment for students. By creating a pipeline of well-educated IoT graduates, along with active real-world involvement from companies like VIZZIA, and additional support and incentives from state and local governments, we believe we can attract other high-tech companies to New Mexico and spawn new entrepreneurs in one of the highest-growth technology sectors for many years to come.” For more info, visit www.vizziatech.com


Duke Energy’s First Solar Farm in New Mexico

The renewables division of Duke Energy, which operates wind farms and 43 solar farms in 13 states, has begun construction on the Caprock Solar Project near Tucumcari, New Mexico. The 25-megawatt installation to be completed later this year will provide power to the Western Farmers Electric Cooperative under a 25-year agreement. More than 103,000 solar panels, manufactured in China, will generate enough energy for about 5,000 homes. Duke Energy is a Fortune 125 company headquartered in North Carolina.


New Mexico Silent on Clean Power Plan Progress

New Mexico is the sixth-fastest-warming state in the country, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is the Obama administration’s attempt to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gasses and benefit communities that may be affected by pollution. But with the Supreme Court’s February ruling to stay the plan’s implementation pending the outcome of a lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been unable to meet its timeline for requiring states to complete their carbon-cutting plans. Twenty states suspended public meetings while others have continued planning.

Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund’s program Juntos is working to organize Latino families in Albuquerque. Juntos’ young activists have canvassed the South Valley, Westgate and the International District. More than three-quarters of people surveyed have said that they don’t want their electricity to contribute to air pollution or climate change. More than 60 percent voiced “strong concerns” about Albuquerque’s air quality.

After holding eight initial public meetings, as well as separate meetings with energy industry representatives and environmental advocates since the stay, the New Mexico Environment Department has been mum on addressing climate change and whether it is continuing to work on a state plan. Similarly, the City of Albuquerque has been silent on the issue and has not planned additional public meetings.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, however, who joined a coalition of 17 state attorneys general supporting the plan, said, “We will continue to pursue the most affordable, cleanest energy available, while protecting New Mexicans, our economy and our environment. The CPP will lead to significantly reduced emissions of climate-changing air pollution.”


Peabody Energy Files for Bankruptcy

New Mexico is the 12th largest U.S. source of coal

In April, the world’s largest, privately owned coal company, Peabody Energy, declared bankruptcy, citing massive losses and the failure to sell its mines in Colorado and New Mexico. The filing comes as the coal industry is collapsing, spurred by declining demand, rising production costs and competition from cheaper, abundant natural gas and from renewable energy. Alpha, Arch and Patriot Coal have all gone under recently. Peabody has obtained debtor-in-possession financing and believes it has sufficient liquidity to continue to operate.

Peabody Energy produces more than 180 million tons of coal annually from mines in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and the Midwest. When burned, this coal produces more than 330 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, more than 5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

There is growing controversy over Peabody’s failure to guarantee cleanup of its operations. Congress has allowed coal producers to offer corporate IOUs or “self-bonds.” The bankruptcy apparently means that “self-bonding” is no longer applicable. According to a congressional estimate, Colorado stands to shoulder $26 million in cleanup costs, New Mexico $300 million and Wyoming $800 million. Left untreated, these sites can create long-lingering problems including polluted drinking water.

In New Mexico, Peabody’s operations include El Segundo and the adjacent Lee Ranch mine near Crownpoint, which employ 265 workers. The Segundo coal mine is the largest in the state, producing more than 8.5 million tons annually.

The Navajo Nation and many communities depend on the coal industry for jobs and tax revenues. Regulators in Ohio, Georgia and Florida have approved high electric rates to keep coal-fired power plants operating. In western New York State, communities, environmental groups and the area labor federation forged a coalition to address the problems. A recently passed state budget provides financial relief to schools and local governments. Federal support is also needed.


PRC Acknowledges Discrepancies, Reopens PNM’s Rate Case


New Mexico’s largest utility wants to raise the rates for its 500,000 customers. Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) proposes to increase the residential, fixed customer fee from $60.00/year to $157.68/year, an increase of 163 percent. On May 18, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) ruled 5-0 to reopen the record in PNM’s $123.5 million rate case because of “significant discrepancies by PNM.”


In cross-examination at the rate case hearing, Mariel Nanasi, an attorney and executive director of renewable-energy advocacy group New Energy Economy (NEE), challenged PNM’s witness regarding the actual cost of the 64 megawatts (MW) of nuclear energy PNM is seeking to include in the rate case. PNM had originally stated that the cost of the nuclear energy from Palo Verde in Arizona was $1,596/kW and subsequently recalculated a “more accurate” price of $1,306/kW.


“That difference, over the life of the asset, amounts to about a $100 million burden for ratepayers,” said Nanasi. Her cross-examination also revealed that PNM had not done a financial analysis comparing any alternatives before purchasing the nuclear asset and that PNM’s board did not know the nuclear asset’s purchase price before agreeing to acquire it.


The scope of the new hearing, commencing on June 22, will be limited to information regarding the cost of the nuclear asset. Other interveners in the case are the state Attorney General’s Office, the water utility that serves New Mexico’s largest metropolitan area, industry advocates and environmentalists.


PNM’s board briefing of Dec. 3, 2013, states: “Purchasing the other three [Palo Verde] Unit 2 leases will increase the rate base, allowing shareholders to earn a return on the assets.” Not stated in the briefing is any discussion of risk that ratepayers would realize by the acquisition of the nuclear-powered Palo Verde Unit 2, including cost and liability risk, decommissioning risk and spent-fuel disposal costs. “This will lock New Mexico in to the most expensive and dangerous source of energy for decades,” said Nanasi, who is also not reticent about mentioning that the nuclear power generation required will consume about 7 billion gallons of water—through 2033—and will not create any jobs in New Mexico. “Solar,” Nanasi said, “is cheaper, healthier, and would create many jobs locally.”


A $580 Million Take-or-Pay Coal Contract at the Four Corners Power Plant

In December 2013, PNM also signed a $580 million coal contract to supply its interest in the Four Corners power plant, located on the Navajo Nation. It is a take-or-pay contract, meaning that, even if PNM doesn’t take the coal, ratepayers have to pay. The contract will increase costs in 2016 by 40 percent, in 2017 by 53 percent  and, through the 15-year life of the contract, by 128.5 percent. The total projected amount of the coal fuel cost between 2016 and 2031 at the Four Corners plant is $579.59 million, according to NEE. Nanasi is among those who say that it is not prudent or reasonable to be reinvesting in coal for such a long time.


El Paso Electric Company, another utility that has a stake in the Four Corners coal plant, has decided to abandon its 108 MW shares as of July 1, 2016, “to avoid future increased costs, risks and liability of coal-fired generation.” El Paso Electric did a financial analysis and made the determination that coal is a risky investment. NEE alleges “PNM did no financial evaluation, and that puts ratepayers at risk, especially given the decline in coal markets.”


Citizen Groups Challenge Fracking in Santa Fe National Forest

Legal Push Part of Broader Effort to Safeguard Greater Chaco


In a bid to protect New Mexico’s water, air and climate, last month a national coalition of environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s plan to allow fracking in the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF).


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service auctioned more than 20,000 acres of oil and gas leases on SFNF land in 2015. That lease sale, which facilitates fracking of New Mexico’s Mancos Shale, was sanctioned by the 2003 Farmington resource management plan (RMP) that the BLM has admitted is obsolete. The agency is currently writing an amendment to the plan to reflect modern fracking technologies. Yet that hasn’t stopped use of the plan to authorize oil and gas activity on previously undeveloped areas near wildlife habitats and watersheds on the remote and steep west side of the Jémez Mountains north of Cuba, in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness and the Greater Chaco region.


The groups filing suit include the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Amigos Bravos, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club. “Instead of being ripped up for short term profits, the headwaters found in the Santa Fe National Forest should be maintained, so they continue to provide water for wildlife, agriculture, and families,” said Rachel Conn, projects director for Amigos Bravos.


Horizontal wells have double the surface impact (5.2 acres) of vertical wells (2 acres) and emit over 250 percent more air pollution, including toxic volatile organic compounds, methane and other greenhouse gases. Horizontal wells also require five to 10 times more water. Horizontal drilling and multistage fracking use hundreds of thousands of gallons of highly pressurized water and toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens, to shatter underground geology. If a well-bore’s integrity is otherwise compromised, these chemicals can contaminate groundwater and put the future water supply for downstream communities and ecosystems at risk.


New Wilderness Areas Proposed

A comprehensive, bipartisan energy and public-lands package was recently passed by the U.S. Senate. It includes provisions to grow New Mexico’s technology and energy sectors, as well as a bill that Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced to establish two new wilderness areas comprising 21,420 acres, the Cerro del Yuta (Ute Mountain) Wilderness and the Río San Antonio Wilderness. Both are draws for locals and tourists.

For many years, a broad coalition of northern New Mexicans has worked to conserve these areas within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, northwest of Taos. Ester García, president of the San Antonio del Río Colorado Land Grant in Questa, said the wilderness designation would “safeguard precious water that is vital to our well-being. Waters that flow to our acequias are protected by the wildest lands with the national monument.” The roadless areas also provide important habitat for elk, mule deer, black bears, golden eagles and American pronghorn.

Within the wilderness area, 1,280 acres are state Trust Lands. New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a Republican, is opposed to the bill’s passage because it would result in an “undue environmental burden” and make the areas off-limits to oil and gas development, mining, timber and grazing leases. Preexisting traditional land uses would be allowed to continue.

An updated report by the National Park Service shows 1.7 million people visited national parks in New Mexico in 2015. They spent $97.5 million in the state, which supported 1,528 jobs and cumulatively benefited the state economy by $118.6 million. That is a 9.8 percent increase in spending and a 7 percent rise in visits over 2014.


20th Annual Sheep Is Life Celebration

June 12-19, Diné College, Tsailé, Arizona – Navajo Nation

The Sheep is Life Celebration is an annual public event focused on Navajo sheep culture. It is the place to be for those who love sheep, wool, fiber arts and the diverse cultures that have maintained these traditions for thousands of years.

Activities at the celebration include seminars on the Navajo lifeway, Navajo-Churro sheep and fiber arts. There will be sheep-to-loom demonstrations, sheep and fleece shows, a juried fiber-arts show and sale, youth activities and a celebration banquet. In addition, workshops will be offered in traditional sheepherding, sheep production and grazing management.

Diné be’ Iiná (the Navajo Lifeway), a nonprofit organization, cosponsors the event with Diné College and the Land Grant office. DBI’s mission is to restore the balance between Diné culture, life and land. DBI serves shepherds and fiber artists and educates the community and the public about the importance of Diné sheep culture. DBI works with other organizations to conserve the traditional Navajo-Churro sheep breed, provides technical assistance to help shepherds and weavers gain economic self-sufficiency and markets value-added sheep and wool products.

For more information: 505.406.7428, info@navajolifeway.org and www.navajolifeway.org


Western Coalition of Arid States Conference: June 22–24 in Santa Fe

Minimizing Water Resources through Recharge, Reuse and Recycle

The 2016 annual WESTCAS conference will focus on practices members can employ to stretch and increase their water supplies. The program will look at this challenge from the legislative side to on-the-ground practitioners.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López will welcome the attendees. Ryan Flynn,  Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, will present a keynote address on “Getting Serious about Investing in Water Infrastructure.” Other presentations include “Efforts to Develop a Sustainable Colorado River,” by Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River Resources, District of Southern California; “Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s Integrated Plan,” by Lisa E. Hollander, governmental affairs officer, Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District; “A Tribal Perspective on the Aamodt Settlement and Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System Project,” by former Governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque Charlie Dorame; “Aquifer Recharge and Beneficial Reuse in El Paso, Texas,” by Scott Reinert, Water Resources manager, El Paso Water Utilities; and “Optimizing Reuse to Head Off Climate Change,” by Bill Schneider, City of Santa Fe.

Attendees will enjoy hosted lunches with speakers including Emeritus Director Siegfried Hecker, Ph.D., Los Alamos National Laboratory, and William DeBuys, author of The Great Aridness—Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.

Attendees also will have an opportunity to visit the Santa Fe Watershed and the Buckman Direct Diversion facility.

For registration fees and a full agenda, visit westcas.org, call 770.424.9468 or email westcas@mindspring.com


EleValle Awarded Major Grant from W.K. Kellogg Foundation


EleValle, a group of agencies working collaboratively to improve the health and well-being of Albuquerque’s South Valley residents, has been awarded a 3-year grant of $1,080,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Formed in 2008 through funding provided by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center Office for Community Health, for the Pathways to a Healthy Bernalillo County program, EleValle network promotores, or navigators, guide and connect vulnerable, underserved residents to health and social services. EleValle’s collaborative agencies currently include Casa de Salud, La Plazita Institute, South Valley Economic Development Corporation and Centro Savila.


“The extraordinary commitment of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to EleValle since our beginning means more opportunities for our Pathways participants to succeed and more opportunities for the navigators who serve them to broaden their own professional skills,” said EleValle Director Sam Sokolove. “This grant will also allow EleValle to conduct intensive evaluations to more effectively address the barriers South Valley residents face in living healthier lives and will help us engage more partners in our work.”


EleValle is a project of SINC (Social Impact through the Nonprofit Community; formerly the Río Grande Community Development Corporation). Tim Nisly, chief executive officer of SINC, believes that EleValle represents a unique collaborative model in Albuquerque’s nonprofit sector based on the shared commitment of its partners to community health. “This investment from the Kellogg Foundation will enhance the lives of the South Valley residents the EleValle network serves,” said Nisly. “SINC is proud to play a continuing role in EleValle’s development and success.”


For more information about EleValle or its partner agencies, call Sokolove at 505.306.7853, or visit www.elevalle.org


UNM Awarded $1.5 million to Study Environmental Conditions in Disadvantaged Communities


The University of New Mexico is one of five universities selected to establish centers for excellence that will focus on environmental health disparities. The UNM College of Pharmacy has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on top of $3.5 million awarded last fall by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to launch its Center for Native American Health Equity Research.

The additional $1.5 million will help support investigations on how contact with metal mixtures from abandoned mines affects rural Native American populations through exposures in drinking water and other local resources that are part of their traditional lifestyle and culture.

The two federal agencies are providing more than $25 million to the universities of New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California, along with Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University, to conduct multidisciplinary research with local communities on how to improve environmental conditions for vulnerable populations. Environmental health problems are more likely to occur in communities that have ongoing exposure to multiple sources of pollution. The centers will focus on understanding the relationships between biological, chemical, environmental and social factors.

“For the first time, researchers will address—across multiple tribes—disparities in social determinants of health, and tribal cultural and traditional practices,” said Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D., director of the UNM College of Pharmacy’s Community Environmental Health (EH) program. “Our UNM center will be developing evidence-based risk reduction and prevention strategies to reduce the effects of environmental disparities on Native American health.”

Lewis and UNM Associate Professor Melissa Gonzales, Ph.D., are leading the Native EH Equity research team, which includes community members, scientists and tribal staff from the Navajo Nation, Crow Nation and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, with support from Pacific Northwest Coast tribes.


New Art & Farmers’ Market at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo


Erykah Vigil and Jovanna Aruchuleta have been working for months to organize a local arts and farmers’ market for the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council. ENIPC has received grant funding for advertising and marketing for the market through the Regional Development Corporation. Virgil Vigil of Tesuque Pueblo has created a new logo.

The market will be set up in the arbor area behind ENIPC’s offices (and the Ohkay Casino) at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, 327 Eagle Drive. Opening day is July 9 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market will be held on consecutive Saturdays through Oct. 8. In addition to fresh local produce, once a month there will be cooking demonstrations and each Saturday there will be live entertainment. For additional information, call 505.747.1593 or visit www.enipcmarket.com



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