An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

New Mexico Wind Energy Center

The New Mexico Wind Energy Center is one of the largest such facilities in the world. Its 136 turbines produce up to 200 megawatts of power—enough energy to supply 97,000 homes.

Renewable energy will save consumers money

—LAURA PASKUS, High Country News
There’s never been a better time to worship the sun. As corporations realize that free energy is beaming to earth from space, there’s been a spike in demand for solar products, says Bernard Stuart, general manager of Albuquerque-based Matrix Solar. The company, a subsidiary of a French-owned manufacturer, employs about 30 people who churn out photovoltaic modules that produce electricity from the sun. "We’re in a crunch," he says. "In the past five to ten years, there has been massive change (in demand)."

Matrix is one of a number of businesses that may benefit from Albuquerque’s renewable energy initiative, which was passed by the city council in September. The initiative allows companies that produce renewable or energy-efficient products to issue bonds, and it gives them tax breaks, in an effort to attract them to the city. Other municipalities, states and the federal government are also offering manufacturers of renewable technology tax breaks, or even direct assistance.

With the recent price spikes for gasoline, electricity and home heating oil, consumers are searching for more reliable, cost-effective ways to heat their homes and power their refrigerators. And that means that technologies once thought fit only for wacky environmentalists are now becoming more popular—and much cheaper. Aside from making economic sense for customers, renewable energy technology could help revive the sluggish manufacturing sector, and pump money into local communities.

Ben Luce, the policy director for the Santa Fe-based Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, says that the growing demand for clean energy—and the technology that creates it—is drawing investment money now that will make alternative sources even stronger: "The economy is very good at exploiting new opportunities."

The market, says Luce, is growing 30 to 40 percent per year. "There are lots of people trying to get in on the business right now," he says. "Ten years from now, it will be hard to compete."
Growing pains. Hundreds of miles north of Albuquerque, residents of Colorado’s Front Range are also reaping the financial rewards of renewables. Xcel Energy has passed the fluctuating price of natural gas on to its customers. But by opting into the company’s Windsource plan—which used to cost an extra $6 each month—Coloradans are now saving about $4 a month.

The federal government gives utilities an economic incentive to tap into wind power with a "production tax credit," providing a 1.8 cent per kilowatt hour credit over a wind farm’s first 10 years. Congress created the credit in 1992, and recently renewed it until 2007.

The industry does have its fair share of obstacles to work through, partly because the market is growing so fast. European wind-turbine manufacturers—which have long led the field and currently make eighty percent of the world’s turbines—are struggling to keep up with worldwide demand; the backlog for orders now stretches past 2007. And because the price of steel has risen over the past two years, due in part to high demand from China and the energy costs of processing the metal, contracts for new wind farms have actually been cancelled. Earlier this year in Colorado, Prairie Wind Energy nixed a 69-megawatt wind project, even as demand from consumers rose.

Solar panel manufacturers face similar problems. "The demand is there," says Matrix Solar’s Stuart. "We just can’t get the raw material." Stuart says the photovoltaic industry competes with the rest of the electronics industry for refined silicon, a product made by only seven manufacturers worldwide. And international demand is squeezing supplies, as well: Government incentives in Germany are causing a rush on the market, as is demand from developing countries such as China and India.

There are other obstacles, as well. The two most common problems, say those within the industry, are transmission and storage. Currently, for example, there’s no way to effectively store wind power when the wind isn’t blowing. And most wind farms—along with biomass facilities, which generate electricity by burning small-diameter trees—are built in rural areas, far from existing transmission lines. Scientists are experimenting with ways to store wind-generated electricity using different types of batteries, or hydrogen fuel cells.

In New Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson, who was secretary of Energy under President Clinton, is trying to address those problems. New Mexico has abundant wind, solar and geothermal resources, and is looking to move some of that energy out of state.

"New Mexico has 4,000 to 6,000 megawatts of economically competitive wind power that’s not getting to market because of transmission," says Ned Farquhar, the governor’s energy policy advisor. On the remote eastern plains of the state, there simply isn’t the infrastructure to move electricity. But during the next legislative session, the governor plans to ask lawmakers to create a Renewable Energy Transmission and Storage Authority to tackle the problem.

Seeking stability New Mexico is ahead of the curve. Thanks to the federal tax credit for wind projects, PNM, an Albuquerque-based utility that sells electricity and natural gas to about a half-million customers, signed onto a wind farm in eastern New Mexico in 2002. Because of the federal credit, says Mike D’Antonio, PNM’s director of resource planning, "wind came in at a very attractive cost, about three cents per kilowatt hour." Today, out of PNM’s 1,700 megawatt system, 204 megawatts are from wind — far surpassing the state’s wind-power requirements. Now, the utility is working on how to meet the state’s diversity requirement: It’s considering building two solar facilities, and looking into geothermal and biomass.

Other western states have set their own goals for renewable energy, but some, such as Arizona and Nevada, are floundering. And even in New Mexico, working renewables into the energy mix is not simple, largely because they can’t provide the consistent, dependable power supply that, say, coal does. "PNM is very pro-renewable, but it’s not the total answer to our future supply needs," says D’Antonio. "There needs to be a balance: coal, natural gas, renewables, and we’re even looking at nuclear." When the wind blows, PNM can back off its coal-fired power plants. But when it doesn’t, coal remains the steady supplier. "Price is one aspect," says D’Antonio, "but reliability is more important."

Nonetheless, increasing reliance on renewables will undoubtedly lead to "absolute price stability" in the long run, says Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a wind trade association. Fossil fuel prices are notorious for fluctuating wildly, while renewable costs are much more stable. "I can tell you what the price of wind will be in 20 years," says Cox. "Wind provides a tremendous hedge against price spikes."

Cox says there also needs to be more investment in transmission lines to bring renewable energy to market. That might be a tough sell for wary investors, but it’s worth it: "Thirty years ago, (utilities) were not using natural gas, and now it’s a major component," he says. "We can make the shift to wind in a similar time frame."

Laura Paskus is Southwest editor for High Country News (www.hcn.org), covering the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.


USFS land trade to Sandia Pueblo does not include 10-K Loop

—SIGNPOST STAFF
There is some concern among recreationists following news coverage of a proposed trade within the Cibola National Forest, fearing that it might include the 10-K Loop, which is about three miles east of I-25 on NM 165. (See article, page one, in the January 2006 Signpost.) The loop road and the land within the loop is a popular area for hiking, running, and bike riding.

Jackie C. Andrew, Sandia District ranger, has stated that the area currently proposed for exchange is south and west of Forest Road 445, commonly referred to as the 10-K Loop. The loop itself is not included in the proposal and the roadway has a fifty-foot right-of-way proposed for the south and west sides. The land-exchange proposal is being considered, in part, under the T'uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Act which was passed into law in 2003. Under the General Exchange Act, the proposed exchange is open to public scrutiny and comment.

The T'uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Act required the forest service to consider such an exchange as proposed by Sandia Pueblo. The proposal is currently being evaluated by the forest service, and no agreement has been reached as to whether the proposal is acceptable and feasible under forest-service regulations. If the forest service agrees to proceed with the exchange process and consider the exchange as proposed, a public comment process will be initiated. The proposal has not been accepted, so the comment process has not begun.


Tracking the Intel bucks

—BILL DIVEN
More than a year after handling the $16 billion Intel bond issue, Sandoval County still has a quarter of its initial $48 million share sitting in the bank.

But it’s not for want of trying.

Only the $1.8 million allocated to develop a marketing plan for the Rio Puerco Basin Fair remains totally untouched. The project has been delayed as the county and the independent board of the Cuba event wrestle with the anti-donation clause of the state constitution.

That clause prohibits public expenditure for private enterprises and has the county seeking some means of controlling the fair and its sixty-seven-acre site. County officials have met with the fair board, but the situation remains unresolved.

“The kind of investment the county is looking at is not going to happen under the current makeup,” county manager Debbie Hays said recently. “The fair board is at a real crossroads.”

The Intel money results from the county’s acting as middleman in issuing $16 billion in industrial revenue bonds for the computer-chip maker in 2004. In lieu of taxes, the county is to receive at least $81 million, and perhaps as much as $91 million.

Despite its Rio Rancho address, the five-thousand-employee chip plant is located in Sandoval County.

Two commissioners secretly negotiated the deal with Intel, and barely five weeks elapsed between its announcement and commission approval. Attorney General Patricia Madrid, acting on a complaint from Placitas resident Charles Mellon, determined that appointing the commissioners in a private meeting to negotiate public policy in secret violated the Open Meetings Act, but took no further action.

When the deal closed, the county promptly pledged the promised revenue to issue its own bonds to support big-ticket projects, plus $1.3 million to each of the five county commissioners to spend within their districts. By the end of 2005, here’s where the money went:

• Permanent Fund, $12 million, the interest to be used to repay bonds for water, wastewater, infrastructure, and education projects.
• Commuter Railroad, $10 million for rolling stock and infrastructure, all spent.
• County transportation system to connect with the commuter railroad, $6 million, $5.96 million remaining.
• Rio Rancho Event Center, $8 million, all spent, although the county is to receive 20 percent of net revenue from the 6,500-seat arena now under construction.
• Market Rio Puerco Basin Fair, $1.8 million, zero spent.
• Countywide Broadband Communication, $2 million for planning and implementation, about half spent, with the pilot wireless network about to launch in Bernalillo.
• Digital Media Complex, $300,000 for planning, all spent.
• County building projects, $2 million, $505,000 spent on Judicial Complex, most of $495,000 spent on Detention Center, and only $70,962 of $1 million spent on El Zócalo renovation, as bids exceed available funding.

Of the $1.3 million district allocations, District 1 Commissioner William Sapien gave $400,000 for town of Bernalillo water improvements, $250,000 to the Bernalillo schools, and split another $465,000 among projects including the Placitas Library. His balance is $185,000.

District 2 Commission Damon Ely disbursed half the money in the weeks before his term ended in December 2004, dedicating some to Corrales Elementary School and a Corrales skateboard park, while setting aside $427,000 for building-improve projects. That left $650,000 for his successor, Don Leonard, who funded projects at Corrales Elementary School, the Corrales Cultural and Arts and Corrales Main Street programs, plus home rehab, food distribution, and other services. His balance is $500,000. Also remaining is $237,000 of the money Ely set aside for district building projects.

District 3 Commissioner David Bency has $900,000 remaining after allocating $250,000 to Rio Rancho High School athletics, $100,00 toward building the new Rio Rancho library, and joining other commissioners in supporting capital improvements at Haven House, a domestic-violence shelter.

District 4 Commissioner Jack Thomas has spent about $573,000 on eight projects, including Rio Rancho High School athletics and Watermelon Mountain Ranch.

Before leaving office, former District 5 Commissioner Elizabeth Johnson committed $1.2 million to paving roads in the San Luis and Torreon areas. Her successor, Josh Madalena, inherited $132,235, of which he has spent $70,500 helping the Jemez Pueblo Police Department buy computer equipment, the La Jara Ditch Association tackle erosion control, and joining other commissioners in supporting the Five Sandoval Pueblos food-distribution program.

Bernalillo Chamber hosts pre-election candidate forum

The Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a question-and-answer forum for candidates for the position of mayor of the town of Bernalillo. The forum will be held on Thursday, February 23, at the Bernalillo Community Center, in Rotary Park. Questions to the candidates from the moderator will be from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Questions from the audience will be from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.

The mayoral candidates are Charles J. Aguilar (incumbent), Patricia A. Chavez, M. Helen Sandoval, and Cecilia “Kiki” Trujillo.
All residents of the town of Bernalillo and other interested parties are invited to attend this forum to get to know their candidates so they can make informed decisions.

The Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce urges you to register to vote if you are not already a registered voter.


copyright Rudi Klimpert, Signpost cartoon

Volume of proposed legislation hits new record in Santa Fe

—BILL DIVEN
While the governor pumps the 2006 Legislature to fund the Year of the Child, Placitas-area legislators started out with the Year of the Animals.

Soon after the thirty-day session convened, on January 17, Representative Kathy McCoy (R-Sandia Park), Senator Kent Cravens (R-Albuquerque) and Senator Steve Komadina (R-Corrales) introduced bills favoring bears, wild horses, disaster evacuations of domestic animals, and attempts to reduce pet overpopulation. Together, the three legislators contributed nearly sixty bills and memorials to the flood of proposals capitol veterans described as the most they'd ever seen so early in a session.

While sixty-day sessions, in odd-numbered years, are open to all legislation, thirty-day sessions focus on money bills, the state budget, and items requested by the governor. Fueling the activity this year is an extra $500 million from higher prices for oil and gas produced on state land and the $1.5 billion in revenue and potential bond proceeds for capital projects.
The last thirty-day session produced about twelve hundred bills and memorials. Introductions approached that number during the first week of this year’s session, with the February 1 deadline for introducing more still a week away.

“It's unbelievable,” McCoy told the Signpost. “We are going to be very, very busy.

McCoy is carrying the bear bill at the request of the state Department of Game and Fish, which wants authority to designate areas where businesses must use bear-proof trash containers. Her memorial on disaster evacuations, which wouldn't have the force of law, asks the department of public safety to include domestic animals in its planning.

“We know people died in (Hurricane) Katrina because people wouldn't leave their pets,” she said.

McCoy, whose House District 22 includes Placitas and southeastern Sandoval County, said she has received millions more in capital requests than can be funded and has earmarked money for the Placitas Community Library and to pave the road to the La Madera fire station.

Boosters pushing for state-funded tennis courts in Placitas will have to wait until next year to try again, she added.

Cravens, whose Senate District 21 includes Placitas, has asked for $400,000 for the library. He also is seeking $100,000 for a low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic in Albuquerque to reduce the number of unwanted and abandoned pets.

Komadina, whose Senate District 9 includes Bernalillo, introduced a memorial requesting the federal government develop the state's three existing wild-horse territories, open others if possible, and maintain a herd of at least two hundred in each. That would support genetic viability and provide tourism opportunities, according to the memorial, which also seeks DNA testing to determining linkages to the Spanish lines of colonial New Mexico.

He also has put in capital-outlay requests totaling $9.5 million for projects in Rio Rancho and Sandoval County.

Representative James Roger Madalena (D-Jemez Pueblo) introduced eighteen bills, memorials, and capital requests during the first week. Many of his proposals focus on Native American youth and education, including the creation of a tribal college scholarship fund tied to state gambling revenues and patterned after the lottery scholarship fund.

Still to be resolved is how much of the state windfall may be held in reserve. Also uncertain is how seventy representatives, forty-two senators, and Governor Bill Richardson, who already has seen Year of the Child school-funding proposals reduced, will agree to divide the capital money.

And, as always, details of spending bills often rise or fall in the closing days, if not hours and minutes, of the session, which adjourns this year on February 16. Even then, the governor has until March 8 to sign or veto whatever legislation makes it to his desk.


Candidates prepare for Bernalillo election

Bernalillo Mayor Charles Aguilar has drawn three opponents in the March 7 town election, while six candidates compete for two seats on the town council.

Aguilar, seeking his fourth four-year term, faces former town councilor M. Helen Sandoval and past mayoral candidates Cecilia “Kiki” Trujillo and Patricia A. Chavez.

Incumbent councilors Serafín Dominguez and Edward W. Torres III both are seeking reelection in a field that includes Vern H. Kilfoy, Santiago P. Montoya, Steven James Baca, and Robert L. Bryant. All council candidates run at-large, so the two candidates polling the most votes win the seats.

Voters also will be asked to decide whether to impose a one-eighth percent infrastructure tax on sales and services. The tax would raise about $86,000 a year which could be spent to buy water rights for the town system or to preserve agricultural land and open space.


County Line—
Bond for the new Rio Rancho High School is a no-brainer

—JACK THOMAS, CHAIRMAN,
SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize our county's population is growing at a phenomenal rate. Take a quick drive through neighborhoods anywhere in Sandoval County to see the construction of new homes or “sold” signs going up on vacant land.

Along with new homes, in domino-like fashion, we have new families, new students and needs for additional schools. This year, more than one thousand new students enrolled in Rio Rancho classrooms—just one of five school districts spread across our county. To put it into perspective, that number of new students is more than enough to fill an entire new school.

Recently, state land commissioner Pat Lyons and Rio Rancho School superintendent Sue Cleveland signed the deal to sell 140 acres of state land to the school district. It was an important step towards achieving a far-reaching goal—another high school in Sandoval County, the second in Rio Rancho.

It is tremendous news that the state land office worked out a deal with the school district to provide land for a new high school, and at a fair price of $2.52 million. Even better news for county taxpayers is that most of that money came from allocations by our county's legislators and Governor Bill Richardson.

And the news gets even better. In addition to legislative funds to purchase the land, Governor Richardson announced the state will ante up nearly two-thirds of the cost to build the new school, or nearly $46.8 million of the school's $72.6 million price tag. To put the state's funding share in perspective, that's more than the total school district's bonding capacity of $39 million.

The only remaining step before construction begins and the school begins to become reality, is for residents of the Rio Rancho school district to approve the remaining funds. Voters in the district will go to the polls on Tuesday, February 7, to decide a $39 million bond issue that includes $25.8 million in matching funds for the new high school.

If the bond passes, taxpayers get a $72 million high school for about $26 million. And they get it without an increase in property tax rates. Instead of raising tax rates, the school district will issue the new bonds as old ones are paid off.

In short, it's a great deal for residents, taxpayers, homeowners and students.

Here's the alternative. Under state law, local school districts must provide matching funds in order to get state money. If the bond doesn't pass, the Rio Rancho Public Schools can't provide the $25.8 million in matching funds and the $47 million the state has pledged will disappear. Or, simply put, if the bond issue fails, the school district loses $47 million.

Meanwhile, our classrooms become more overcrowded with each and every moving van. By 2009, the Rio Rancho School District alone will have about five thousand students in grades nine through twelve who must be educated somewhere. Even with acres of portables, there still will not be enough classrooms, so students will probably be going to school during extended days or year-round.

And, as construction costs continue increasing, the cost of a new high school, too, will continue to increase. And, if we reject the state funds now, taxpayers could have to cover the entire construction costs later.

The bottom line is a no-brainer.

We can either pass a bond issue now that will not increase property tax rates or get stuck paying $80 million, $90 million or even more for a new high school in just a few years. Passing the bond issue and getting $47 million in state funds is a responsible use of taxpayer money. Good school facilities help our kids receive a good education and keep property values strong.

Finally, I want to thank my fellow commissioners for unanimously electing me to chair the Sandoval County Commission this year, and I welcome Commissioner Don Leonard as vice-chairman of the board. On behalf of all residents, I also wish to express our deep appreciation for the work by outgoing Chairman Bill Sapien who, while stepping down as chairman, will continue representing his constituents in Commission District 1.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Thomas may be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, New Mexico 87004.

 

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