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Harvest the Sun

This spread in Local Flavor magazine tells the story of the solarization of the Pueblo of Tesuque's greenhouse and the significance of NEE's past solar projects on fire stations, community centers and tribal facilities. In demonstrating the benefits of solar to hundreds of people at a time and repurposing funding back into vital community services, we are exposing the vision of what is possible even in the face of a monolithic, outdated monopoly utility that stands by expensive, dirty energy sources.

Coal is the single greatest cause of climate change. When we boot up our computers or flick the light switch, most of us are getting our electricity from the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s (PNM) coal plant. Most people know New Energy Economy for our work to close coal. We also create opportunities for energy alternatives, with real world solutions.

New Energy Economy uses model solar electric system installations as a means to: 1) demonstrate the financial, environmental and health benefits of solar to hundreds of people; 2) repurpose money previously allocated to utility bill payment for vital programs that service the community; and 3) build durability for our community institutions through a highly visible and notable community project with well-established local partners. We call this energy democracy. New Energy Economy develops community-scale solar energy installations on fire stations, community centers and tribal facilities to expose the vision of what’s possible and educate the public about the economic, health and environmental benefits of renewable energy. To date, we have installed six solar systems throughout New Mexico, including: Crownpoint Chapter House on Navajo Nation, the Taytsugeh Oweengeh Intergenerational Center at the Pueblo of Tesuque, the City of Santa Fe’s largest fire station, Santa Fe County’s fire stations in Tesuque and in Chimayo, and the Zona Del Sol Youth and Family community center. Our latest solarization partnership was again with the Pueblo of Tesuque—this time solarizing two green hoop houses.

What’s particularly novel about this solar installation is that it will extend the growing season all year long and allow fresh vegetables and herbs to be enjoyed locally. Just like radiant heat in your home, tubes containing water were placed underground and are heated by solar so that the temperature in the green houses never falls below freezing. In the warmer months flaps on the sides of the greenhouse can be rolled up. Fresh strawberries, chilies, peach, apricot and apple trees are now growing all year round. Elders can enjoy the organic food grown for free. We are now in the process of documenting everything from electricity generated annually to pounds of broccoli harvested in order to replicate the success for other communities, especially in the far north, like in Alaska and Canada. Local farms are key to building resilience in the face of climate change by reducing the need for food imports, strengthening local self-reliance, and contributing to carbon sequestration and sustainable land management. All together, these model solar projects will save more than 1.2 million gallons of water and displace 15-plus tons of carbon emissions over the lifetime of the systems. Perhaps most importantly, these projects prove the viability and benefits of solar through model examples.

This strategy of building the energy solutions that communities need today in order to demonstrate that renewables are feasible now is critical in the face of the obstacles to solar and wind development, particularly in the state of New Mexico. Our current energy mix through PNM, the regulated monopoly investor-owned utility, is 60 percent coal, 20 percent nuclear, 13 percent gas, five percent wind, one percent utility-scale solar and one percent customer-produced solar. Yet the state of New Mexico is ranked second in the country for solar potential and sixth in the country for wind potential. New Mexico could lead the country in renewable energy deployment and could even be a net exporter of solar, but barriers advanced by PNM present ongoing challenges in our state legislature, the Public Regulation Commission and the courts. In the past year, we have successfully overcome many challenges in these arenas and are making real progress to shift energy investments at the state level. Our model solar energy projects have played a pivotal role in demonstrating that solar is a prudent financial investment that provides a hedge against energy price hikes, provides energy savings and provides enormous environmental and human health benefits. These projects have helped change the hearts and minds of decision makers and the public, who now recognize that renewable energy is not a dream for the future but an opportunity for today.

This latest project was a joint endeavor of the Pueblo of Tesuque, the Christensen Fund, New Energy Economy and First Nations Foundation, with the incredible insight and hard work of Carl Rosenberg, Brian Combs and William Longo. At its heart is Emigdio Ballon and his vision of healthy food for a beautiful community. The crew from the farm at the Pueblo of Tesuque has been instrumental in making it flourish today! According to Ballon: “This project is so important because we are re-making our Pueblo sustainable and independent. We don’t have to pay any corporation for our way of life. We are working in harmony with this place to produce crops and seeds, and we recognize that some seeds need more attention than others. The seeds, the earth, the water are essential elements that help us keep our tradition. The father sun is the life force that makes growth and harvest possible!” We will have a harvest celebration at the end of the summer to celebrate and the community is welcome.

Solar celebration events, held in conjunction with the solar system unveilings, attract hundreds of community members, including local leaders, youth, elders and musicians. Our Sol Not Coal projects provide hands-on education about the financial as well as environmental and human health benefits of clean energy. To learn more about these projects or to join us at the Pueblo of Tesuque solar harvest, please visit our web site, The greatest antidote to depression is activism. Got time? Got money? Got SOL? We welcome your involvement.

Mariel Nanasi is the executive director of New Energy Economy, a civil rights attorney, a mother and a feisty climate activist.

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