May 2017

Newsbites – May 2017


Water Case Moves Forward

Aquifer Science is wholly owned by two shell corporations, one of which is a subsidiary of Vidler Water Co., a major water developer in the western U.S. The company proposed a luxury resort/subdivision north of Sandia Park, but the project has been dormant (with the exception of the water rights fight) for more than a decade. The companies have spent more than $5 million to date to obtain the water rights, which could be sold to a third party if granted.

The residents are represented by the nonprofit New Mexico Environmental Law Center. NMELC asked the court to immediately dismiss the appeal on the grounds that the application is illegally speculative—it filed the motion after Aquifer Science’s owners admitted that there is no up-to-date plan to use the water.” (Under New Mexico state law, an applicant for water is required to demonstrate that it will put water to “beneficial use” immediately.) NMELC is hoping that a ruling will be handed down this summer.

Albuquerque’s Solar Plan

On April 23, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Albuquerque City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton announced plans to sell $25 million in renewable energy bonds to make possible the installation of solar projects on dozens of city buildings throughout Albuquerque over the next two years.


According to a city news release, the first phase of the project would create 135 jobs in Albuquerque and save taxpayers over $20 million over 30 years. As a result of the energy savings and financing through federal bond credits, the projects will be built at no cost to taxpayers.


In 2016, Albuquerque’s city council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the city to derive 25 percent of its energy from solar by 2025. Given that goal, the council seems likely to approve issuing the bonds. Councilor Davis said that $25 million in solar panels would put the city about halfway to that goal. It would also reinforce the city’s identity as a renewable-energy leader.


A new report from Environment New Mexico Research and Policy Center called “Shining Cities” ranked Albuquerque No. 9 amongst American cities based on the amount of solar energy installed (fourth-most solar power per capita), with 82 megawatts providing clean energy at the end of 2016. The high ranking is attributed, in part, to businesses and homeowners who have made the switch to solar power.


United Nuclear Wants to Lower Contamination Standards

United Nuclear has spent more than a decade attempting to clean up radon-226 and 228, boron, fluoride, sulfate, chloride and dissolved solids at the St. Anthony uranium mine in Cibola County, not far from the Pueblo of Laguna. The mine, which was operational from 1975 to 1981, includes two open pits and one underground mine.The company has asked New Mexico regulators to approve a variance for groundwater contamination thousands of times above current standards. The Water Quality Control Commission says that wells monitored in the area continue to show contaminated groundwater exceeding state standards. The commission has scheduled a public hearing this month.


The New Mexico Environment Department, acknowledging that a full cleanup is not possible, has recommended that the commission grant the variance because removing the rock and the contaminated groundwater in the sparsely populated area would be “very costly and have a negative environmental impact.”


The State of New Mexico’s Air

During 2013, 2014 and 2015, Bernalillo and Doña Ana counties had the poorest air quality of the 11 (out of 33) counties monitored in New Mexico, according to the “State of the Air” 2017 report released last month by the American Lung Association. The results suggest that thousands of people in those and other areas are at increased risk for asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. It also adds to evidence that a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health.


To compile its report, the ALA relies on publicly available, quality-assured data from monitors operated by the states, counties, federal agencies and tribes. The report examined data for ozone and particulate pollution. Ozone indicates the amount of smog in the air. It can come out of tailpipes, smokestacks and many other sources. Ozone aggressively attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. Cities in the West and Southwest continue to dominate the most ozone-polluted list. Microscopic particle pollution could be dirt, dust or soot from wildfires, drought, wood-burning devices, coal-fired power plants and diesel engines. The particles can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, cause lung cancer and shorten life. The report grades both daily spikes, called “short-term” particle pollution, and annual average or “year-round” levels that represent the concentration of particles day-in and day-out by location.


The report also says that changes seen since the previous report reflect increased oil and gas extraction, especially in the Southwest. Cleanup of power plants in the eastern U.S. have shifted the cities that experienced the greatest number of unhealthy air days.


The report credits improvements in air quality in various areas to the science-based Clean Air Act, a public health law put into place more than 45 years ago. Some in Congress are seeking changes that would dismantle key provisions of the law.


Energy Company Acquires NM Wind Project for $269 million

San Francisco-based Pattern Energy has acquired the Broadview Wind Farm and its associated 35-mile transmission line for $269 million. The 324-MW farm (equivalent to annual energy usage of about 180,000 homes), 30 miles north of Clovis, N.M., one of the highest wind areas of the West, began commercial operations in March. The power it generates goes to California, helping that state transition to a carbon-free, low-cost, renewable grid. California leads the nation in renewable-energy job growth and is aiming for 50 percent renewable power by 2030.


“Pattern Development is actively developing several significant opportunities in New Mexico and the Southwest as part of the region’s increasing demand for low-cost, renewable energy,” said Mike Garland, the company’s president and CEO.


The company has entered into transmission service agreements through the Western Interconnect with Public Service Company of New Mexico and Arizona Public Service.


Wind energy provided nearly 11 percent of all in-state electricity production for the 12-month period ending October 2016, according to the New Mexico State Land Office. The state’s current energy portfolio plan calls for 20 percent renewables by 2020.




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