Last Saturday Martin Heinrich, the recently elected junior Senator from New Mexico, made fact finding visit to the UNM-Taos Klauer campus. The reasons for the visit were to get more familiar with our community college, discuss federal programs and talk with local business leaders in the field of renewable energy about how the government can better support their efforts.
The next UNM-Taos Report will cover some of the information discussed by the 20 person panel, while this article will deal with some of the comments the Senator made during his two hour meeting. It was a cordial and informal visit catered by Benji Apodaca’s high school culinary arts program, and it was no wonder that Senator Heinrich seemed at ease: as Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill explained in her opening remarks, Taos County voters delivered the highest percentage of votes for candidate Heinrich of all 33 New Mexico counties in the November election. At the conclusion of the meeting, she said she felt that UNM-Taos had a friend in the US Senate, and hoped Senator Heinrich would consider UNM-Taos a resource.
Senator Heinrich was particularly interested in having a look at the 3 ½ acre solar array that powers the entire campus, but as it turns out he is no stranger to either the Taos area or the mechanics of sustainability.
“My family roots don’t go back as far as some in Taos, he said, “but they do go back sixteen years to when my wife and I got engaged during a weekend ski trip to Taos. We just love this community, and we have enjoyed the time we have spent here over the years.
“I know how important it is to be able to have higher education opportunities here. Yes, it would be financially more efficient if we just sent everyone to UNM main campus in Albuquerque. But that would be deeply misguided. We have to make sure that people with all kinds of educational profiles can access higher education in rural communities. It makes them stronger, and it makes this community stronger, as well.
“ I’ll give you a little background in my experience with renewables. I’m an engineer by training. In fact I think I am the only engineer in the entire United States Senate today. I got my mechanical engineering degree in the mid 90’s and was part of a team that actually built a carbon fiber solar car that we raced across the United States against Stanford, Cal Tech and other university teams.
“That was my introduction to efficiency and renewables because I realized that we were driving this seventeen foot long car across the country on about what it takes to run a hair dryer or a microwave oven. I worked with electrical engineers, materials experts and photo voltaic experts, all teaming up to accomplish one project. That started my educational process around energy. I am looking forward to finding out today what you’re doing here, how we can be helpful and how we can work together.”
State Representative Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, who chairs the House Transportation and Public Works Committee and sits on the Energy Committee, concurred. “This year from day one at the legislature it has been jobs, jobs, jobs. We could really excel here if we could land some contracts and go into researching the storage of renewable energy.”
After touring the solar array I asked Senator Heinrich how he would respond to the belief some people have that you can’t have both a clean environment and full employment.
“In the places where the economy is the strongest in the world, they take their environment seriously. And certainly here in northern New Mexico people understand that so much of the local economy is built on the quality of the landscape. There is no conflict here between a better job future and the incredible, God given resources that we have.”
The next report will address comments from UNM-Taos administration and professionals in the renewable energy trades.