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County council lags on environment

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By The Staff

While the residents of the county have consistently shown support for environmental sustainability and conservation, the county council seems determined to ignore these opinions.

In 2009, the state of New Mexico passed bills allowing the creation of “Property Assessed Clean Energy” (PACE) programs that provide 100 percent, 20-year funding for environmental improvements, particularly supporting photovoltaic (PV) electrical generation panels. PACE loans differ from conventional loans in that repayment is through increased property taxes for the improved property. The loan stays with the property not with the individual, which removes risk for both the homeowner and the lender.

The council could not even bring themselves to implement a 90-day study of the benefits of such a program when faced with a very modest proposal in early February.

There is little hope then that they will take action on buying local “Renewable Energy Credits” (RECs). All utilities, including Los Alamos, are federally required to produce a percentage of energy from renewable sources. PNM pays 13 cents for every PV kilowatt produced in addition to nine cents per kilowatt for excess energy the homeowners’ panels produce “running the meter backward.” Buying RECs in this manner is a cost effective way for utilities to meet their goals without capital expenditure. Los Alamos could implement a similar program of buying RECs locally and so encourage local homeowners to install environmentally friendly PV systems, but the council has failed us again by not doing this.

Environmental sustainability should be part of the Municipal Building considerations. The huge building proposed is an environmental disaster. The selected building location displaces efficient, dense housing. A dedicated, and so usually empty, council chamber will replace the dual-use room currently shared by the council and court. The taxpayer will pay indefinitely in both taxes and environmental impact for oversized spaces. The larger building requires more parking spaces. Black asphalt lots create “heat islands” that increase the requirements for air conditioning in surrounding buildings and make the outdoor space less desirable.

The councilors still have not grasped the communitiy’s goal in conservation of utilities and will be presented with an ordinance increasing the drinking water rates, which includes both another regressive increase in the fixed consumer charge and adds a new twist by charging the smaller users disproportionately more so that homeowners will subsidize businesses and other large users.

The county environmental manager and the conservation coordinator have both recently resigned. Until the council is willing to support environmental, sustainability and conservation programs, perhaps they will, at least, do the taxpayers the courtesy of not filling these position.

Jim Redman

Los Alamos