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State energy fantasia shot down by Senator

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By Roger Snodgrass

Miro Kovacevich fought for what he called a “declaration of energy independence” last month and he won at least a symbolic victory.

Kovacevich is a former banking consultant who played a role in developing the Solar  Energy Research Park and Academy (SERPA) in Española.

His bill passed the New Mexico Legislature with unanimous votes in both chambers, despite its ambitious price tag of $21 billion a year.

It called for $7 billion each to be added annually to the budgets of Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories and another $7 billion annually to establish a national renewable energy administration headquarters and research facilities in Santa Fe.

But Senate Joint Memorial 33 contained no funds itself. Instead it requested the U.S. Congress “to include appropriations in the national stimulus package for, and to recognize the importance of, New Mexico’s pivotal role in the national nuclear energy strategy.”

The bill emphasized solar-thermal and geothermal energy alternatives and called for new solutions to the problem of energy storage for the transportation segment of the economy, as well as aggressive development of vehicles powered by electricity.

The final paragraph of the measure resolved that, “copies of this memorial be transmitted to the New Mexico congressional delegation.”

On Monday, a month after the Congress passed the National Recover and Reinvestment (stimulus) Act, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.,  was asked by Bill Depuy of KSFR radio if he had received the memorial.

Bingaman said he had just looked at it, but that he didn’t think it would be possible.

“It calls for a substantial appropriation, I think $7 billion each year to laboratories in New Mexico in addition to what they are currently involved with,” he said. “This of course would be a heavy lift and difficult sell to others here in Congress, given the size of the deficits we’re faced with.”

He also thought there would be some difficulty “enacting a whole new administration.”

“I have not seen that proposed here in Congress,” he said, noting there already was a National Renewable Energy Administration in Golden, Colo.

The exchange took place during the Senator’s regular teleconference with the radio press in the state.

Depuy followed up, wondering if it wouldn’t even be considered.

“Well we can consider it, but I think we’d first want to assess whether or not it had any potential for being enacted,” Bingaman said. “I don’t want to just be proposing things for public relations purposes if we don’t have any prospect of enacting it and frankly I’m doubtful that we’d have much prospect.”

Kovacevich believes the need and urgency of the problem justifies the scale. Although he received little interest or support from the New Mexico laboratories, he is determined that the project should be set in New Mexico with its abundance of energy resources and scientific experience.

“Does the vision compare to the magnitude of the problem?” he asked during an interview last month. “Yes, we’re going to get the job done, but this is how we’re going to do it.”

The measure was carried by Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-L.A., R.A., Santa Fe and Taos, and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Piño in the Senate. The tally was 34-0 in the Senate and 64-0 in the House, where it was shepherded by Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos.