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Senator Martin Heinrich visits UNM-Taos (part 2)

By Bill Knief

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Last month, Senator Martin Heinrich’s staff requested a meeting with us on the Klauer campus for the purpose of connecting with local renewable energy companies and getting an update on the federal programs that UNM-Taos participates in. On February 16 the senator spent most of the afternoon touring the solar array, having a working lunch provided by Benji Apodaca’s high school Culinary Arts program, and talking with representatives from the Green Chamber of Commerce, PPC Solar, Valverde Energy, Positive Energy, Sol Luna Solar and Consolidated Solar Technology, along with UNM-Taos administrators. Here are a few of the highlights.

Representative Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales thanked the senator for his abiding interest in renewable resources and suggested that UNM-Taos should be researching the complex issue of renewable energy storage. Jamie Tedesco, representing the 1,300 statewide members of the Green Chamber of Commerce, said that his group was working on over 15 different bills that would bring down costs and help build the burgeoning renewable resources industry.

A lot of people are focusing on the potential of renewables and trying to make them accessible to the average individual and company,” Tadesco said. “The benefit is that not only are you doing the right thing, but you’re also helping companies to provide jobs and tax revenues that are so important to this state. There will be a huge adverse effect if federal incentives go away.”

Mark Johnson of Sol Luna Solar told the senator about last summer’s 100 kilowatt parking canopy his company built for Taos Charter School, explaining that it was the first of its kind in New Mexico. “It allows people that don’t have a good solar site at home or they don’t have enough money to participate in a larger solar system to still buy into that array and lower their electric bill just as if they had the same kind of system in their house. It’s called remote net metering and we’re very proud of that project.”

According to Johnson, it has become a “no brainer” to use solar in business, when federal tax credits will pay for 30 percent of your system and state tax credits will pay another 10 percent, and accelerated depreciation on the equipment will kick in another 15 percent. Furthermore, the USDA REAP program (Renewable Energy for America) will pay for another 25 percent of your system if you are a small business.

Larry Mapes, with Valverde Energy, said he wanted to see more effort on the part of Sandia and Los Alamos labs and more directives for the labs to work with higher education, particularly involving issues of advanced storage, while Karlis Viceps talked about what he called the “big picture”.

Obviously, there is always going to be a need for energy as our population continues to grow. So everyone is looking at renewables because that is a very viable option. What I see as a huge benefit of renewable energy is that it allows a small, one person household to really do something. That’s the beauty of renewable energy: you can take it from the individual scale all the way up to the federal government. Our company (Positive Energy) has grown four-fold in terms of gross receipts in five years. We need those incentives, but to me there is also a need to develop disincentives to address what we don’t want.”

Mark Goldman is the director of the UNM-Taos Green Jobs program. He said that in just four years it has really taken off. In one recently held symposium more than 100 people attended, and heard presenters from the Philippines, India and Canada. Students learn basic plumbing, construction and electrical and then take on the specialized skills that sustainability requires.

The final component in the program was a report by UNM-Taos administration on federal programs. Maya Gutierrez, who has been with Juan Montes’ College and Career Prep program for the past six years, spoke in support of the CAMP program assisting transient and farm worker students. “We have been able to provide individualized support services such as parent training, coaching, tutoring and handling financial resources. Unfortunately due to their immigration status, many of these students can’t benefit from these programs. We have supported the Dream Act for the past seven years, and our group is very involved with MAYA, the Mexican American Youth Association, improving social conditions for students that live here in our community.”

Victoria Gonzales, in charge of federal Carl Perkins and Accelerate programs, told the senator that Taos should be the education destination for the world for green jobs and green tech. “We are making a concerted effort at UNM-Taos to provide what the community needs in terms of workforce development.”

Title V Director David Trujillo said that, “These federal grants are really important because what they help us with is capacity building—building systemic ways to be a better institution. We were recently awarded two Title V grants focusing on three things. First, improving our developmental studies efforts: we have a full time developmental studies faculty now using best practices to improve how we provide developmental studies. Most of our students come here with a certain level of academic unpreparedness and need help to move forward. Second, Title V has made it possible to hire more advisors that focus on student success, persistence and retention, and third, we were able to consolidate our facilities. For the first time we were able to locate our library on the Klauer campus.

We also have a Northern Rio Grande STEM Collaborative that has enabled us to add three faculty members. Those three faculty bring PhD level preparation from Oxford University, Cornell and Emery—topnotch people doing wonderful things for our students. We also have a Veterans’ Upward Bound grant to help veterans get into higher education, and an Upward Bound Science grant that gets 9th and 10th grade students ready to transfer into higher education and careers.

All of this is critical because it is actually a workforce initiative. We are preparing the workforce of the future in high tech, high wage jobs. These grants are not just investments in UNM-Taos. They are investments in our entire community.”

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