Last Friday was a rough day for NM, with winds of 60-80 mph driving fires across the state. Even for those of us living distant from fire, the smoke and dust filled the air. Roxanne looked outside and commented sadly, “It looks like the end of the world”…then added, “Actually, it looks like our future.” My response was: “Both could be true.”
Friday’s exchange left both of us dispirited. The wind had a mind of its own and was going to blow vicious gusts, no matter the consequences, an apt metaphor for what transpired that day in the Drury Hotel in Santa Fe. When government officials came to listen to the hot air blown by Avangrid-PNM execs, they heard the words they wanted to hear: promises that ignore consequences and offer a path that allows continued growth of the gas and oil industry and hydrogen development that will give us infrastructure money, private investment, jobs, revenue. What I suspect they failed to mention is that hydrogen-oil-gas package will result in more Friday afternoons with searing winds and roaring flames. While the capitalists in the room would never admit it, it’s a package: continued drilling and continued flames. Our future. Unless we heed Mother Nature’s pleading to save her… and us.
Before we dive in to today’s topic, two brief announcements.
Advocacy Huddle via Zoom, Weds, May 4, 6 – 7:30 pm
Please join us for our monthly Huddle to discuss advocacy strategy for the coming months. All are welcome. We want to hear from you! The May Huddle will focus on the Primary Election coming up on June 7. There are lots of important races, and we need to fight the push to replace progressive incumbents in the NM House. The best way to achieve social, economic, and environmental justice in our state is to get the right people representing us…Let’s talk about how best to do this. We will first hear from Bill Jordan, Voices for Children, who will outline the consequences if Rep. Patty Lundstrom gets her way and NM abolishes the state personal income tax. Once Bill has laid out the importance of a vibrant, progressive tax system to create a sustainable state government, we will then discuss the implications of the primary and how we need big wins in House districts throughout the state to prevent this neoliberal coup.
We will also squeeze in a brief introduction of a new strategy outlined in this post: creating local “Centers of Adaptation and Resilience Excellence (CARE),” and how Retake will conduct research on models of resilience excellence and organize local efforts to press for adoption of those practices and policies.
Election Central Launched
Retake has created a page to house our 2022 primary endorsements. Election Central outlines what is at stake in the 2022 NM election and why it is so important to do more than just vote. At the end of the Election Central page is a link to our endorsements for the 2022 primary.
Andrea Romero Needs Your Help
Canvassing requires a commitment of time, and for many it requires getting outside of one’s comfort zone. Speaking for myself, I was reluctant to canvas, feeling that writing the posts and alerts were the most important things we could do. But then I canvassed for Andrea Romero in 2016 and I was hooked. The conversations with folks were addicting. You could tell you were accomplishing something. It became clear how effective canvassing can be the backbone of successful campaigns. After canvassing for Romero, Roxanne and I canvassed for Xochitl Torres Small in Roswell and for Abbas Akhil in ABQ. In both cases, there were large numbers of volunteers joining us, demonstrating that volunteers are the key ingredient in an effective canvassing effort.
So, if you can commit an hour or two on any Saturday or Sunday, or after work during the week, between now and June 7, the Romero campaign can use your help. Give it a try and let us know how it goes. To get involved, contact Sascha Anderson, Romero campaign coordinator:
- by email (firstname.lastname@example.org),
- by phone (917-399-6786)
She’ll get you set up with everything you need.
An Alternative: Local Resilience
A small group of Retake folks have been discussing how impotent we feel, on a national and even on a state level, in influencing the effort to address the looming climate catastrophe. We began discussing the idea that there could be merit in working locally with a goal of achieving greater local resilience, building local capacity to adapt to whatever Mother Earth will be bringing our way. To do so, we felt we would need to address issues related to water, energy, food, transportation, and housing. We thought we might be able to create a model for “Centers of Adaptation and Resilience Excellence (CARE),” where a municipality adopts an array of initiatives that collectively build far greater community resilience.
While this may not move the needle on an international scale, it can help prepare a municipality to better adapt to the emergencies that are certain to come and create an action template for other communities. Even if we can’t stop the PNM-Avangrid-MLGs of the world who only respond to the dulcet tones of false promises from industry that allows growth, jobs, and revenue without sacrifice — or rather with the sacrifice passed on to future generations — we feel we could shine a solar powered light on what is possible if we listen to our hearts and to science.
The conversation among Retake folks was then reinforced by conversations in the weekly Public Power steering committee meetings, where members hoped to create a municipal utility district in Santa Fe and other NM communities. And so, today, we will focus on how municipalizing our energy can accelerate our transition to 100% renewable energy while reducing customer rates, i.e. building local resilience.
There are models of resilience operating in every corner of the globe, with some in nascent forms right here in NM. Take Kit Carson Electric Co-op for example. According to a piece in the New Mexican, “Kit Carson Electric, with solar energy and new supplier, plans to cut customer rates up to 25%”
A combination of factors will see the average Kit Carson customer’s monthly bill reduced by as much as 25 percent starting in August or September, according to company officials….
The reduction in fuel adjustment cost is due to Kit Carson deciding in 2016 to end its relationship with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the company that had long provided the bulk of its energy supply.New Mexican, “Kit Carson Electric, with solar energy and new supplier, plans to cut customer rates up to 25%”
Tri-State had raised rates 8 of the past ten years, so Kit Carson began to make plans to liberate itself from their dependence on Tri-State and achieve local energy democracy.
Adjacent to the Taos Regional Landfill, the utility is nearing completion of a 170-acre, 15 megawatt Taos Mesa solar array project, which is by far the largest array in the company’s portfolio. When it goes online in June, its 44,000 solar panels will have the capacity to provide 100 percent solar energy — during the day — to all of Kit Carson’s Taos area customers, representing 20 percent of the cooperative’s total energy needs. And Kit Carson isn’t stopping there.
The addition of ten 1.25 megawatt Tesla Megapacks — each of which look like a medium-sized storage container but are, in the words of Tesla, a “large-scale rechargeable lithium-ion battery stationary energy storage product” — will enable 12.5 MW of solar energy to be stored and released at times of peak demand, at night or into the grid. Megapacks cost $1 million each, and Kit Carson owns 13 of them: 10 for the Taos Mesa Array and three destined for Angel Fire.
When its 7.5 MW Angel Fire Array is completed later this year, Kit Carson says it will have the capacity to produce enough solar power to serve all of its customers with solar energy during daylight hours.
For years, Kit Carson has been planning and investing in its transition to renewable energy sources and has been installing solar energy infrastructure throughout its territory. They have managed this investment while simultaneously buying out their contract with Tristar. Now that that debt is paid, Kit Carson is able to provide a rate reduction, while continuing its investments in renewable energy and storage, getting ever closer to being able to provide 100% renewable energy 24-7-365, while continuing to reduce rates.
Kit Carson is not alone in forging this transition. If Los Angeles, with 1.4 million customers, can be served by a publicly owned utility, there is no reason that New Mexico’s 750,000 customers of investor-owned utilities (IOUs) cannot be served by a publicly owned utility as well. And there are endless examples of how this has been done in municipalities throughout the US.
The APPA, American Public Power Association (publicpower.org) reports that there are more than 2,000 public power utilities throughout the U.S. — in every state but Hawaii — and in five territories. These take a variety of forms, but the difference between public power and Investor-Owned Utilities (the three IOUs in New Mexico are PNM, El Paso Electric, and Southwestern Public Service) boils down to essentially one thing: municipalized utilities are motivated by values rather than shareholder profit. Public power customers (1 in 7 US residents) pay on average 11% less than IOU customers, receive more reliable service, and are more likely to benefit from renewable power sources. In 2019, more than 40% of public power was from renewable energy.
Importantly for New Mexico, municipalized power also keeps our money in our communities. Publicly owned utilities can re-invest profits from energy sales in local jobs, lower energy costs for low-income customers, and investment in local community projects and causes. Or, as noted by Sen. Bill Tallman below, they can invest in the municipalities that spawn them, further contributing to local resilience. IOUs’ primary responsibility is to benefit shareholders. Public power exists to benefit the community.
“As a former city manager of two cities who owned and operated electric and gas utilities, I am a strong supporter of public utilities. The citizens of both communities took great pride in the fact that they had local public control over their electric and gas utilities – our rates were significantly less than the rates of the surrounding investor-owned-utilities and we contributed 10% to the cities’ general fund,” said Senator William Tallman.NM State Senator Bill Tallman
While the purpose of municipalizing local utilities will be to build local resilience, doing so statewide offers still more benefits. These benefits include public ownership of the energy and transmission infrastructure necessary to profit from the vast opportunities that exist now to build energy infrastructure and export renewable energy to load centers in California, Arizona, and elsewhere. The economic opportunity for New Mexico is significant.
As New Mexico grapples with a “just transition” in deciding how to restructure its energy sector to advance climate justice and equity, another NM project offers inspiration and evidence ot the vast potential for municipalities across NM. Picuris Pueblo has many important lessons to teach. Picuris was the first tribe in the state to embrace renewable energy. The pueblo’s quest to sustain its traditional activities and be in harmony with the land and nature led to producing solar energy. Picaris Governor Quanchello has said, “Our solar project is aligned with Mother Earth.”
Picuris is located approximately 60 miles north of Santa Fe and 24 miles southeast of Taos on N.M. Highway 76, in an area of serene beauty known as the “Hidden Valley” of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The Picuris Pueblo is on its way to establishing its own tribal utility in order to become energy self-sufficient, lower its carbon footprint, save money and improve reliability. In 2017, the Tribe built its first solar system. Kit Carson Electric Cooperative purchases all of the system’s output under a Power Purchase Agreement. The 1 MW system, is one of the pueblo’s economic development projects. The array generates just under 1.5 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy each year from approximately 4,000 photovoltaic (PV) panel modules. The system has proved to be very reliable and has become a successful business that provides a subsidy to reservation households.
The project is now a model of community solar. Officials from most of New Mexico’s tribes as well as other tribes have visited the project. They have wanted to know how the smallest and least-resourced tribe in the state has been able to complete and operate such a project.
The tribe recently received a second photovoltaic grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy and matching funds from Grid Alternatives’ Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund and the 11th Hour Project. Phase II of the project will be a grid-connected community micro-grid. Sandia Labs and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Energy Storage will provide ongoing technical assistance for the energy-storage system. Electricity generated by the additional solar array will go directly into tribal buildings, households, economic development projects and energy storage. Surplus energy will then go to the local utility with the revenue from that deal being reinvested in the Picuris community. As a result, Kit Carson secures more renewable energy to strengthen its grid, while Picuris uses the proceeds to invest in its community. That is what resilience can look like.
With local models in Taos and Picuris, and the American Public Power Association housing information and data on hundreds of other public power successes, advocates and coalitions have the tools to advocate locally to municipalize energy, one piece to the puzzle of building local resilience.
Retake will continue working on the Public Power NM steering committee and will also begin researching other local resilience strategies related to food security, public transportation, affordable housing development ,and small business development. We will begin discussing these strategies in our monthly Huddles and find roles for Retake volunteers to adapt successes achieved in other states to NM realities.
No, none of the local work will substantially reduce carbon emissions or stall the capitalist march to a warmer planet, but it can help local jurisdictions build resilience and prepare to adapt to Mother Nature’s response. And just maybe, through our work, we can turn on a few light bulbs in the heads of state and national policy makers who have the capacity to begin addressing climate more systemically and on a state and national level. Stay tuned. Join us in next Wednesday’s Huddle where we will talk more about this. Click this link to register for the Huddle.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne