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A sustainable partnership

By Bill Knief

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In an era of soaring energy prices, deteriorating environmental quality and rapidly vanishing resources, the need for clean, renewable energy is no longer a topic for serious debate; it’s a given.

Nevertheless, it’s one thing to endorse the idea of renewable energy—and quite another to support it, fight for it and pay for it.

That’s why the collaboration between UNM-Taos and Kit Carson Electric Cooperative is so exciting. When the local coop qualified for a $5,000,000 federal interest free bond to promote renewable energy, it went looking for the right partners who could actively support a sustainable infrastructure and serve as a demonstration site, becoming a model today for what is in store for all of us in the very near future.

UNM-Taos turned out to be high on the list.

“They have a willing staff that embraces the technology that will eventually become mainstream,” explained Luis Reyes, chairman of Kit Carson Electric. “UNM-Taos is lined up to implement all the practical applications of sustainability, and integrate these into their curriculum, including green architecture, grey water recycling, biomass utilization and solar energy. This is exactly the leadership we need to help market to people who don’t yet fully understand the benefits of sustainable energy.”

When completed next spring, the UNM-Taos solar array will cost upwards of $700,000.00, serve roughly 80 per cent of the Klauer campus’s energy needs based on current demand, and be one of the largest—if not the largest—solar power generating systems in New Mexico.

“The big payoff will be over the long haul,” states James Rannefeld, Trades and Industries Academy head and longtime proponent of clean, sustainable energy. “And it’s right that this should be happening here in our community. Since the 70’s Taos has been a leader—a pioneer if you will—in green building, clean energy and sustainable lifestyles. This project is a continuation of that legacy.”

But with construction costs rising 46% in the past two years alone, it’s not easy for UNM-Taos to keep to a healthy construction schedule and still cover the high initial costs of their commitment to sustainability. In the long run, however, it’s going to be worth it.

RATE PARITY: THE HOLY GRAIL OF ENERGY GENERATION

Rate parity, according to Reyes, is going to come about around 2011 or 2012. That’s when fossil fuels, which are going up in price, and renewables, which are coming down due to an increasingly favorable economy of scale, improved efficiency and carbon tax revenues, balance each other out. At that crossover point and from then on, renewable energy becomes more and more attractive and the relatively high initial investment begins to pay off.

“There’s no reason why sustainability can’t become a powerful driver of the Taos economy,” Reyes said. “We chose to implement a solar ‘mini power plant’ on the Klauer campus because solar energy is inexhaustible, the basic technology is already here, and it’s site compliant. That is, it does not discriminate for or against any class of customers. You can put a two kilowatt array on the roof of your home in Taos or build a 400 kilowatt system to power a large business. Either way, we will be setting the standard for the rest of the state.”

In an effort to get the most publicity and educational impact from the federal money, which must be paid back in fifteen years, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative has identified other demonstration sites, including the patio area at the coop, the Molycorp mine in Questa, the Town of Taos, and the Villages of Questa and Penasco.

About The Bill Knief

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