The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

ECO-BEAT


Solar companies roll the dice

—STEPHANIE PAIGE OGBURN, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
Gambling that the economics of energy are changing, two new companies have proposed building the largest solar power plant in the world.

New Solar Ventures and Solar Torx, both based in Phoenix, plan to construct a solar power plant and a factory to manufacture the necessary photovoltaic cells. The three-hundred-megawatt plant near Deming,New Mexico, would be thirty times bigger than the largest solar-powered plant now on-line, located in Germany.

Company officials estimate start-up costs at $1.6 billion—over six times that of a comparably sized natural-gas-powered plant. But natural-gas prices have nearly doubled since 2000, while a solar plant’s everyday operating costs are close to zero.
The companies are “betting on the price of gas,” says George Douglas, spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. They’re also betting that they can get production costs low enough to turn a profit. At its cheapest, solar energy has cost about twenty cents per kilowatt-hour to produce: To sell power at the going rate of eight to ten cents per kilowatt-hour, New Solar Ventures will need to achieve unprecedented cost savings. The companies hope to begin producing power by 2007.

The United States once dominated the field of solar technology, but a lack of government investment allowed other countries to take the lead. Now, with a recent 30 percent federal tax credit for producers of solar energy and several Western states extending credits for renewable energy, U.S. solar may be making a comeback. Nevada, Washington, and California are also considering solar power plants.

This article originally appeared in High Country News (www.hcn.org), which covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.


Solar-energy class shines on the streets of Bernalillo

—NEW MEXICO SOLAR ENERGY ASSOCIATION
What was going on outside the Bernalillo Town Hall last May? Folks were gathered around wooden pallets. Various tools and voltmeters were in use. There were hammering sounds and occasional cheers.

It was the third day of a five-day Photovoltaic Design and Installation class presented by New Mexico Solar Energy Association, a nonprofit educational organization. Students from Las Cruces to Las Vegas, including one from Texas via France, were preparing a solar-electric installation by learning to wire lights, outlets, and switches.

The hands-on lab was the culmination of the classroom instruction, which introduced the basics of solar electricity, photovoltaic (solar-electric) components, and the fundamentals of PV siting, sizing, and safety. Taught by Marlene Brown, of NMSEA, and Randy Sadewic, of Positive Energy, the class included a tour of homes and facilities in Albuquerque that are using photovoltaics to offset some or most of their electricity use.

The grand finale occurred the following weekend, during the installation portion of the class—a two-kilowatt pole-mounted array for Empowering Our Communities in New Mexico. EOC is a nonprofit corporation that serves to improve the conditions of communities and low-income households so they have access to safe, decent, affordable housing and the resources and skills to live, learn, and work together. More cheers are expected when the solar array begins to generate clean electricity.

NMSEA and EOC thank Mayor Patricia A. Chávez for donating the use of the Rio Grande Room in the Town Hall through Cynthia Leyba and Sylvia Roybal. Additional support for EOC's solar system included services donated by Richard Reynolds, of Bernalillo Sand and Gravel, and Luz Energy Corporation, and discounted products from Direct Power and Water, who all demonstrated generous support of nonprofit education, low-income assistance, and the renewable-energy industry through their contributions.

For information on NMSEA's classes, chapter activities around the state, the June Taos Solar Music Festival, the September Solar Fiesta, and financial incentives for solar, check NMSEA's Web site, www.nmsea.org, or call the main office, at 505-264-0400/888-88NMSOL. For more information about Empowering Our Communities of New Mexico, contact Sally Moore, at 505-867-3374, Extension 12, or smoore@eocnm.org.


West-wide energy corridor under consideration

The West-wide Energy Corridor Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement evaluates potential impacts associated with the proposed action to designate corridors on federal land in eleven western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity-transmission and -distribution facilities.

The programmatic EIS also evaluates the no-action alternative and other alternatives. Because the proposed action may involve actions in a floodplain or wetland, the draft PEIS will include a floodplain and wetlands assessment, and the final PEIS or record of decision will include a floodplain statement of findings. Based upon the information and analyses developed in this PEIS, the agencies issuing the PEIS would amend their respective land-use plans by designating a series of energy corridors effective upon signing of the record or records of decision.

Explore the PEIS; what it is, why it is needed, what's in it, where the draft corridors are located; how the PEIS will be prepared and by whom, the schedule for preparing the PEIS, and information about government-to-government consultation.
The corridor would probably pass through public and private land in the Placitas area. Public comment is still being accepted. This part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. For further information, visit www.corridoreis.anl.gov.


Sandia Ranger District plans bird, wildflower, butterfly hikes, and Children’s Archaeology Day

The Sandia Ranger District will hold a Children’s Archaeology Day on July 1 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Sandia Ranger Station, in Tijeras, for children ages nine to fourteen.

Participants must have a sun hat, wear sunscreen, hiking shoes, and old clothes, and bring a sack lunch and water. The fee is $10 per child. Space is limited. Sign up in advance by calling 281-3304.

Every Tuesday in July at 8:00 a.m. the Sandia Ranger District and skilled volunteer birders from Central New Mexico Audubon Society will explore distinct Sandia Mountain habitats on morning bird walks to discover residents of high-elevation spruce-fir, mid-mountain meadows, mixed-conifer, and riparian woodlands that range in elevation from seven thousand to 10,678 feet. Meet at the Sandia Ranger Station in Tijeras and bring sunscreen, a hat, water, and binoculars. The walks will take an hour and a half to two hours on established trails—not difficult because the pace is slow. The hikes are free, but there is an amenity fee of $3.

Every Saturday at 9:00 a.m. you can take a guided wildflower hike along trails of the Sandia or Manzanita Mountains. Hikes have been scheduled as follows: July 1–Tree Springs, July 8–Tecolote Trail, July 15–Tecolote Trail, July 22–Sandia Crest/Kiwanis Meadow, July 29–Sandia Crest, Kiwanis Meadow. The listed locations may change because the hikes go where the flowers bloom. Please call 281-3304 in advance to check on schedule changes. All walks meet at the Sandia Ranger Station and there is a parking fee.

Join butterfly walks with Ernie the Bug Man, meeting at the Sandia Ranger Station on July 16 at 1:00 p.m., to look for fritillaries and swallowtails in the 10K North Meadow and on July 30 at 1:00 p.m. to look for black swallowtails at the crest to Kiwanis Cabin. Though the walks have a featured butterfly and location, they may change due to weather, butterfly observations, fire restrictions, or closures. Ernie will demonstrate how to photograph, collect, and identify butterflies on the Sandia Ranger District. The participants are required to bring water, good shoes, and appropriate clothing. Bring your camera if you are interested in photographing butterflies.

For information on any of the hikes and walks, call the Sandia Ranger Station, 281-3304.


USDA declares New Mexico a disaster area, due to drought

U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared New Mexico a disaster area, due to continuing drought and wind storms. Bingaman wrote to USDA officials last month urging them to quickly approve Governor Bill Richardson’s request for a statewide drought-disaster declaration.

As a result of the declaration New Mexico farmers and ranchers are now eligible to be considered for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Producers have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for emergency loans to help cover part of their actual losses, provided all eligibility requirements are met.

Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Center for more information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for this and other programs. Additional information is also available on-line at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov or through New Mexico FSA’s Web site, www.fsa.usda.gov/nm.


AG Madrid challenges EPA mercury-emission rules

Attorney General Patricia Madrid announced on June 19 that her office has joined fifteen other states in a petition challenging the final rules which establish a cap-and-trade system for regulating harmful power-plant mercury emissions. The rules were published by the Environmental Protection Agency on June 9.
Madrid said, “The EPA's new rules will delay meaningful reductions in mercury emissions for years. By putting these new rules into effect, the EPA will allow hot spots of local mercury deposits around the country, will harm the health of citizens living in those areas and will present yet another setback to defense of the environment in this country. This rule is yet another example of how industry-friendly this agency is, whose mission, as stated in its title, is supposed to be 'environmental protection.'”

The EPA made a May 31 announcement that it would move forward with its cap-and-trade program for mercury emissions. A coalition of states filed suit last year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the cap-and-trade rule and a separate rule that removed power plants from the list of pollution sources subject to stringent pollution controls under the federal Clean Air Act. The lawsuit, which asserts that both rules violate the Clean Air Act, was put on hold by the court in October, when the EPA agreed to a formal reconsideration of the rules.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of uncontrolled mercury emissions, generating forty-eight tons of mercury emissions per year nationwide. The trading scheme established by the EPA's cap-and-trade rule will allow power plants to purchase emissions-reduction credits from other plants that reduce emissions below targeted levels, rather than install stringent controls to reduce mercury emissions at their own plants. That will allow localized deposition of mercury to continue unabated near plants that choose not to reduce emissions, perpetuating hot spots and hot regions that can significantly impact the health of individual communities.

Exposure to the most toxic form of mercury comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and shellfish. Children can suffer permanent brain and nervous system damage as a result of exposure to even low levels of mercury, which frequently occurs in the uterus. Mercury exposure can result in attention and language deficits, impaired memory, impaired visual and motor functions, and reduced IQ. Scientists estimate up to six hundred thousand children may be born annually in the United States with neurological problems, leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in the womb. Also, mercury has been linked, more recently, to increased heart attacks in adult males.


Report supports Governor Richardson’s petition to protect roadless wilderness

—DAN WILLIAMS, NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has released “Wildlife, Habitat, and Hunting: New Mexico’s Roadless Areas,” a thirty-eight-page report supporting Governor Bill Richardson’s petition to protect the state’s 1.6 million acres of roadless National Forest lands and one hundred thousand acres of the Valle Vidal from future road construction.

The report illustrates the value roadless areas have on wildlife, recreation, the state’s rural communities, and New Mexicans’ quality of life. Of the 1.6 million acres of roadless areas in New Mexico’s six national forests, 351,000 acres are not currently protected from additional road building by existing forest plans.

“Our roadless wilderness areas are truly cherished by the people of New Mexico as well as people who come here to fish and hunt,” Governor Richardson said. “Roadless areas create unique, valuable recreation opportunities —real backcountry available to our hunters and anglers.”

The report emphasizes the effects backcountry roads have on wildlife habitat and ecosystems. It shows how roads, road building, and associated traffic create a cascade of adverse effects to the forest ecosystem, including sedimentation, reduced water quality, introduction of nonnative plants and animals, and increased man-caused wildfires. It also provides facts about roadless areas and examples of their value, including how roadless areas nationwide:

• Occur within 661 of the more than two thousand major watersheds in the nation, providing clean, fresh water to thousands of communities and millions of people.
• Provide unique, high-quality hunting and fishing opportunities because they serve as core-habitat areas for game animals and cold-water fish species.
• Contain essential habitat for more than 2,150 species of threatened, endangered, proposed, and sensitive plant and animal species.
• Furnish unique opportunities for human solitude and reflection.
“New Mexico’s roadless areas promote ecological health in our watersheds,” Department of Game and Fish director Bruce Thompson said. “Road building in these areas could result in degradation of water and habitat quality. Roadless areas support significant and complex wildlife communities. Without them, our hunting and angling opportunities will be dramatically diminished.”

The department’s report can be seen at the Department of Game and Fish Web site, www.wildlife.state.nm.us. More information on the Governor’s petition is available on the Heritage Forests Campaign site, www.ourforest.org.

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