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19
Jul

Solar Gardens in Colorado

Colorado poised to lead nation in ‘solar gardens’
Denver Post; July 16

Solar gardens allow consumers to lease a portion of a solar array, and Colorado has a solar-garden law, leading-edge private financing and developers that specialize in such collectives, giving the Centennial State an edge in the collaborative projects.

14
Nov

Oil and Gas Lashing Out at New Mora Drilling Ban

Mora County was the first county, as I hear it, to place an outright ban on drilling for oil and gas. This in response to well-documented concerns for ground and surface water contamination and an ever longer list of ruined watersheds. (See Gasland and numerous reports online from CO and other places).

News moves fast… and the story is developing. Just last week, Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) was in town to talk about the significance of Mora’s ordinance, and about how communities globally are asserting their rights to unpolluted water. He spoke of being in places like New Zealand, quite recently, where this Mora ordinance was held out as what that community on the other end of the planet wanted to initiate there, as well.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, especially because I think that the people of Mora County, its supervisors and Thomas Linzey are to be admired for their fortitude and all of these certainly expected this turn of events. But the opposition has parried back.

Mora and its new ordinance were sued this week by oil and gas, along with some property owners. Here’s wording from the ordinance:

“The People of Mora County recognize that water is essential for the life, prosperity,
sustainability, and health of their community and that damage to natural groundwater and surface water
sources imposes great tangible loss, to the People, natural communities and ecosystems of Mora County,
not just for today but for future generations. The People of Mora County recognize that they may be forced, without their consent, to endure or attempt to repair harm inflicted on their environment and their vital water supply, which they have no equivalent governing authority to prevent under current state and federal law.”

The complainants in the lawsuit assert that the ordinance isn’t really about water at ALL, but is an underhanded attempt to stop what they call the “lawful development of oil and natural gas” and ultimately, the intention they presume is to ban hydraulic fracturing in Mora County. Well, duh.

This is the logic of citizenship in a democracy, is it not? A logic that says, if we value our right to clean water, we should establish a law to protect that right. If an action like hydrologic fracturing is deemed to be in breach of such basic human rights, guess what? The legality of it must be drawn into question. That IS democracy. Those in Mora aimed their concern at the underlying rights we all are meant to have, codified in many cultures and in many times and all but written in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. This seems something a court in the US would want to uphold. Right?

Actually, it is the oil and gas extraction industry that has any and all rights so far, with its inarguably iron fist on mineral rights policy and it’s unrelenting clench on our elected representatives. Without a huge outcry to all our elected officials from county to state to congressional delegation, the oil and gas lobby will roll right over Mora, though this of all counties in NM seems to have the spine to stand their ground.

Probably nothing less than a constitutional convention is likely to shift our loyalties away from corporate genuflecting and toward fundamental natural rights to shared land, water, air and life. I wouldn’t expect any sitting court in the land to uphold citizen rights to clean and safe land, water and livestock over corporate mineral exploration. We need to fix the laws at the highest level, within our state and national constitutions. So, what’s the next step, Mora? Taos? US? Is this a N. NM. level campaign, can we join forces with those trying to protect the Gila River from water exportation? With those that want to revise the Rio Grande Compact to reflect sane resource management? What’s next?

Read more in the SF Reporter.

6
May

Fractured Lands: Protecting Water & Land

McCrystal Creek in Valle Vidal, NM photo by J O'Donnell.

McCrystal Creek in Valle Vidal, NM

Originally published in Summer 2013.
author: Jim O’Donnell

In January 2008, land men from KHL (an oil and gas company out of Albuquerque) came to Mora County, New Mexico. Dotted with relatively poor farming villages against a fairytale backdrop of snow-capped 13,000 foot peaks, Mora County was to become the front line in the resource extraction wars in New Mexico.

“They held a barbeque in Ocate and tried to get folks to lease away their mineral rights,” says Kathleen Dudley. “They said we could become rich from leasing our minerals. They told us that there was no threat to our water. Nobody believed them. We knew better than to believe industry. We knew what was happening in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. I wondered, if Texas is so heavily drilled, then why do they always drink bottled water?”

In Mora County, New Mexico—and throughout the country—the oil and gas industry is on the hunt for natural gas. They are specifically after coalbed methane, a type of sweet gas absorbed into the coal matrix and held in a near liquid state. The best way to get it is by fracking.

Five years ago, very few people even knew what the term fracking meant, until educated by individuals in many western and eastern states who had seen their land taken or ruined, their children sickened, their tap-water on fire and their aquifers poisoned or drained.

Fracking is what we do to get our natural gas. The idea is simple. To get at deep, hard to access natural gas deposits, millions of gallons of specially blended toxic fluids are forced, under very high pressure, into the geologic formation below the surface of the earth via a drilled wellbore. At the desired depth, the fluids are released into the rock structure where they find small, extant cracks and force them open, breaking or fracturing the formation. Next, a proppant such as sand, grain or glass is then injected into the fractures to keep them open once the fluid drains away. Fracturing liberates gas trapped in the geologic formation, allowing it to flow through the cracks and the proppant, back to the wellbore for extraction.

Simple, right? And it works. Very well—if you’re only goal is to get the gas out at any cost. While the idea behind fracking may be simple, the consequences are anything but simple.

Fracking has successfully opened up deeply buried natural gas reservoirs once thought too expensive or too difficult to access. According to the oil and gas industry, fracking is a safe, effective way to get at fossil fuels previously out-of-reach and a realistic way to keep driving the American economic engine. In New Mexico, by far the majority of our 52,000 producing oil and gas wells have undergone fracking at one point or another.

But it wasn’t until early 2005 that fracking really took off.
New technological innovations and a controversial decision by the fossil fuel-friendly Bush Administration to exempt fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act opened up tens of thousands of acres of land throughout the United States and Canada to drilling that was previously unimaginable.

In 2006, I watched as a family member in Garfield County, Colorado held a match to her tap water and lit it on fire. She attributed her well’s contamination to nearby fracking. Two years later, drinking water wells in the area were found to contain high levels of methane and chloride―only after the drilling began. Other studies conducted around the country the past five years have found similar issues.

A study out of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine demonstrates that fracking in Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, New York, Texas and other states is responsible for the illness and death of everything from deer, elk and bear to cows, horses, goats, dogs, cats… and humans. A University of Texas study found that every step in the fracking process results in environmental contamination. Late last year an EPA test well in Wyoming found that ground water now contained unacceptably high amounts of synthetic chemicals used in fracking fluid. Given that kind of information it should come as no surprise that in February 2012 a group of American doctors cautiously petitioned for a moratorium on fracking in populated areas until more information on the long term environmental consequences could be gathered.

Of the 750 compounds in hydraulic fracturing products, more than 650 contained chemicals toxic to human health and regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Yet much about fracking remains a mystery to the general public.

Part of the problem for community members, health care practitioners and regulators is that many fracking mixtures are considered proprietary. That is, the producer can keep the recipe a secret. Under such restrictions, these chemicals are nearly impossible to document or track. Doctors have nothing to work with in determining what may be causing numerous inexplicable disease clusters that show up among people in drilling areas.

Naturally, the industry denies any link and then communities feel the need to take action. Facing down the wealthiest industry on the planet, however, has its challenges. How far can communities go to protect their waters, their air quality and the health of their residents? That’s not clear, nor is it clear which state and local regulations drilling companies are required to comply with.

In August of 2011, the community of Dryden, New York banned gas drilling. Fifty-some other New York communities have enacted similar bans. The drilling industry reacted. In the case of Dryden, the Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corporation cried foul after investing over $5 million on area leases and development and took the community to court.

A lawsuit wasn’t the issue in Pennsylvania. There, community after community passed drilling regulations. Again, industry cried foul and Republican governor Tom Corbett (who incidentally received nearly $1 million in oil and gas industry donations) pushed for and got legislation limiting the power of local officials to deal with drilling companies. In Ohio, the drilling industry got a jump on local citizens. A 2004 law preemptively banned every township in the state from regulating oil and gas industry within their borders.

On the positive side, a February 2012 court decision on the Dryden case in New York may be a game-changer for affected communities. The state Supreme Court upheld the community’s ability to protect itself from drilling. But the fossil fuel industry has promised to appeal and fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court if need be.

Some new or re-regulation might also be in order. Natural gas, often sold as a “cleaner” alternative to other forms of fossil fuels, is a very dirty business. The Federal government is currently reviewing regulations for drilling in general.

Today, several New Mexico communities are under direct threat from fossil fuel extraction―and they are fighting back. In 2006, community members shut down drilling efforts in the Valle Vidal unit of the Carson National Forest through Federal legislation. Activists in the Farmington area fight tooth and nail just to get industry to operate more responsibly. Over the past six months, the counties of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and San Miguel have held up drilling through ordinances and moratoriums. Mora County looks to be next.

“We are working to put into place community rights based ordinances based upon our inalienable rights to clean water, air and land,” says a Mora County resident. The problem is that these local actions may not hold up in court. As in New York, the outcome remains to be seen. “Thus far, we’ve been successful to keep drilling out of Mora County. However, the fight has effectively polarized our rural communities. The tensions have broken down fibers that have knitted this community together for generations,” says Dudley.

The oil and gas industry is showing signs of worry. In August 2011, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association ceased opposition to a proposal that required them to disclose contents of fracking fluids within 45 days of well completion. A “too little, too late” response from an industry that should and could begin monitoring aquifers a year or two prior to drilling, disclose their fracking fluids’ chemical contents prior to injection and then monitor the aquifer content and quality for years after. But politicians are also getting worried. On March 7, 2012 the Governors of Colorado and Ohio met specifically to discuss fracking and what to do about it.

Given the effects of fracking on water, along with recent increases in seismic activity from injection wells, and given what communities want for themselves, the way the oil and gas industry conducts business worries many.

“Those who support drilling need to understand that we are all interconnected in this world and that what one person does impacts the other,” Kathleen Dudley explains. “It is important that we apply the principles of Democracy at a time when such development practices have the power to impact future generation’s health and vitality. It is important to take these questions to the vote of local communities in which this development occurs rather than by those with the money and industry promotion behind them.”

18
Apr

Drought: Repartimiento is More than Sharing Water

From my esteemed friend and writer Estevan Arellano, about acequias and repartimiento:

“Everyone please conserve water as much as possible.

Rio Embudo was running 5.3 cfs yesterday which is the lowest is has been in 80 years of record for this day. The previous lowest discharge for yesterday in 80 years of record was 6.4 cfs in 1951. The Río Embudo is at 5.8 cubic feet per minute today, a little better than yesterday. Record for April 17th is 806 cfs in 1942.

With this drought, the repartimiento will kick in sooner than later. The problem now a days is that it has been translated simply as “sharing,” when in reality it’s more complex. The key ingredient is equality, or equidad, as we say in Spanish. The concept is Moorish and is about 4,000 years old. But since we have forgotten the traditional knowledge, now we simply say repartimiento and forget about equality and the old ways of measuring the water.

Dr. Jacinta Palerm wrote a wonderful paper on the “Medidas Antiguas,” but that knowledge is almost gone from our memory. Part of the repartimiento involved measuring the water based on “surcos,” “bueyes,” “naranjas,” which are still in use in Valle Allende in southern Chihuahua.

Water was divided, like I said based on “equidad,” or by acres. So each acequia got water based on the number of acres that particular acequia has under irrigation. Therefore, an acequia with 150 acres should get five times the water that an acequia with 30 acres receives. Then the water each acequia has, again was divided based on the acreage each parciante has, which was supposed to be equivalent to the number of peones, or water rights. Therefore, someone with one full peón, would be entitled to more water than someone with one-quarter peón. So if each quarter peón can use the water for one hour, then someone with one full peón would be entitled to four hours and so on.

Simply dividing the water based on days, the big acequias are being screwed by the smaller acequias, if surcos and acreage are not taken into account when the repartimiento is called for.”

26
Jan

REIT’s: Solar Investment for Main Street

Shortage of capital is one of the main reasons the market for solar and other renewables is not developing more swiftly. Subsidies have allowed petroleum and other fossil fuels to thrive. A few government incentives have helped solar and renewables grow, though not to the same extent. But it seems renewables might be on the verge of a new infusion of investment.

REITs or Real Estate Investment Trusts, have a reputation as a commercial or public investment option. They pay dividends on income-producing properties and now, solar installations may well qualify for pooled investment funds.

Given that REITs also can double as IRA’s – or so I’ve read (please clarify) – there’s a good shot that Wall Street’s usual suspects might see a retreat of retirement funds from traditional players into these new and greener investment options, if a new IRS rule gets enacted.

In response to the request of one company, the IRS should rule soon on a new category for this investment vehicle by adding solar installations to existing categories of REITs.

Homeowners who haven’t felt ready to install on their rooftops might be more drawn to the investment option, particularly if it provides an alternative to other less ecologically-conscious funds that have been lagards in the recession.

Fair warning: during the economic downturn in 2007-2008 and beyond, real estate took a tumble and REITs lost upwards of 40 percent of their value. One question is whether the new REIT solar option will revive their more secure and higher return reputation.

Those who want to put retirement funds into renewable energy, and also receive dividends will be looking at the IRS ruling as will larger enterprises looking for capital. You now have many options: rooftop arrays for heat or electric that pay a modest return on investment, community solar gardens, investing in start-up firms and technology or investing is a somewhat more stable, if reports are accurate, REIT.

The other question that is highly relevant: will investors have flexible enough options to avoid investing in large-scale arrays that are destroying mass tracts of wilderness in the American Southwest? While I can see the urgency we have to build more capacity, I hope we can be selective and make educated use of this trust. Perhaps to pool smaller distributed arrays and neighborhood installations, and thus direct renewables development away from undeveloped lands.

Solar Done Right is one of the organizations that helps educate about the pros and cons of scale in solar development and industrial-scale impact on fragile lands.

It looks like only those private installations that are eligible for the 30 percent federal tax credit will be suitable for REITs, so this leaves out some community-owned or otherwise financed arrays.

See the article by Andrew Herndon of Bloomberg, reported in Renewable Energy World.

18
Dec

Energy and Mayan 2012 Shift

USA Today inserts a small magazine into The Taos News. Mostly recipes and pop culture. Recently, it featured science writers explaining why the world wasn’t going to end in 2012, despite some of the Mayan calendar’s overzealous interpreters. What an uninspired take on this interesting and certainly precarious time we’re living in.

I don’t wonder much about the end of the world. Per se. But so much is already changing quite dramatically to the point that any reasonable person would see this as a watershed time in earth (nevermind in human) history.

Our energy is shifting, most assuredly. First and foremost, we just are forced to see things differently than in the 20th century. One prays that the shift is away from fossil fuels and so it appears in the public’s preference. We pray to various dieties and the great Unknown, that we might avoid immanent climate chaos. Anything at this stage that might soften the blow is welcome.

Who wouldn’t find the transition to be game-changing? Access as much as source of energy is imperative. Centralized power is less a technical necessity than it is an archaic form of economic power.

Land stewards and geologists are proposing new terms to signify the end of one era and the beginning of another: Anthropocene and Holocene. They are markers.

To the land trust guys I heard from recently, this heralds a difference in the way we see ecosystems, the land and the earth’s events – all have been affected by human “anthro” – throughout the 20th and I would argue, also into the 21st for some time to come.

But now, we are hitching up the conestogas to algae and the sun.

Mayans long ago and today’s celebrators of Mayan culture, are marking the era (perhaps) as a beginning and as an end. I say, good on them. I join in that celebration and light my candles in the house this year asking for more sun, more distributed power, and goodbye to the bad karma that got us all to this point.

Meanwhile, there are so many things to worry about and that’s in the air, too. Cultural, political, fiscal, bloodshed and on. Toxins in the air and water, drought, species loss and way too much human suffering. It’s hard figuring out which windmill to tilt at.

Speaking of windmills. There’s a challenge for Mesa Green Guide readers and friends.

How can wind be scaled down for ecosystems and villages?

I watched “Windfall” the other day — documentary about a fairly naive township in the fingerlakes region of NY. It became divided over wind development with initially no idea what a 400 foot tower with massive blades would look and sound like.

Yet, even in that film, there’s a dismissal of wind being just fine in the Mojave Desert where there aren’t any people. Still laboring under the notion that only human suffering counts.

Big industrial power generation is only proceeding because of government tax breaks (which make possible enormously efficient giga-scale manufacturing) and the existing infrastructure of centralized power. What is missing – as ever – is asking why we continue to reward massive economic efficiency to a power company with multiple shareholders over massive public and ecosystem good.

People aren’t the only ones affected by renewable development at what might be deemed “investor (corporate, share-based) scale.” If you remember Enron, they were at heart a very money hungry group running a corporation, and they were in the business of large-scale energy development, as well as energy delivery and packaging with prospects of a cushy profit. (They failed for various reasons, some nefarious, but others pure market blunders.) Yes, they went down, but others see profit at this scale. They also see profit from giving us access to the energy that is all around us already.

Of course, we need to install renewable capacity at volume, but I am far and away more interested in doing it on a scale to support life.

People, tortoises, cryptobiotic earth – all suffer when a particularly massive scale comes into play. An ethic is built into our business education: the measuring of lost opportunity for profit as a pressure to push boundaries for the sake of no perceptible social or ecosystem good: that is, the most for the money trumps the most for life.

If we merely trade carbon energy for a massively industrial build-out of renewable energy on fragile wildernesses, or in dormant farm and ranchlands, we aren’t thinking clearly outside the unsustainable box. Next time you go to San Diego, witness the rooftops. They are the target customers for massive desert solar arrays. Next time you head into Taos, ask why we don’t see more?

1
Dec

Community Solar in Taos: Foothills Array

Do we have community solar in Taos? Yes, thanks to Taos Charter School, KCEC and the Clean Energy Collective.

Starting in 2012, our first community-owned solar array went on sale. You can buy one or more panels of this array.

If community members don’t have a favorable solar site or rent rather than own, solar seemed a very remote, if impossible, option for electricity. What community solar can provide is solar access for residents who rent or wish to invest a smaller amount than what it would take to go entirely off-grid or off-coal. Some Taosenos have already bought one, two or enough panels to cover their kilowatts. Panels can be sold, transferred with the sale of a house, gifted to non-profits, or willed to other co-op members. Small businesses in the Rate 3 billing class can benefit from owning panels. In addition to the electricity credits they receive on their bills, businesses can also depreciate the purchase price for tax purposes.

Location: Taos Charter School campus.

Cost: About $850 per panel. One percent is reserved in a maintenance trust account, so the array will be funded for maintenance and replacement of components by the coop in future years.

Project Financing: The Foothills Solar Array at Taos Charter School was funded by the Clean Energy Collective of Carbondale, CO. The Clean Energy Collective tracks electricity production in real time on their website for anyone to see.

Installer: Mark Johnson and Sol Luna Solar installed the array.

Description: There are 420 panels on this 100 KW array. Each panel is 235 watts. It is estimated that the array will produce renewable clean energy to fully power 20 homes for the next 50 years. Anyone who is served by the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative can own panels on the array, and receive credit on their electric bill. All you need is a meter number within the system.

Nat Evans, 7th and 8th grade science teacher at the Taos Charter School explains, “Students will be able to monitor the amount of electricity collected from the sun and compare that to other sources. This is not another demonstration, but real science at work.”

For more information on buying panels on the Foothills Solar Array, you should first locate your electric bill, and estimate the average amount of electricity you use per month from the bar graph on the lower left corner. Take that number of kilowatt hours and go to http://kcecsolar.com to fill out the Clean Energy Collective form for a prospectus.

For more information, please contact Mary Emery at memery1043@gmail.com or call 575/770-8382.

7
Nov

Sigh of Relief

You know, I voted for Obama and am relieved of course to see him in office. I was admittedly disappointed by his campaign, in that he was unable to promote the good work of stimulus funding around the country, especially on infrastructure and energy education/financing.

I’ve heard others say they’d like to see a Obama wake up his compassion and stop a military policy in Afghanistan using killer drones on civilian gatherings; and yet others are eager to see if he can progress on his cabinet appointments moving away from Monsanto toward rational food safety advocacy and leadership that relieves small farmers and ranchers from awkward and unbalanced regulation.

But in terms of energy, I am like many others exhaling our pent up CO2 knowing we have at least some shot at steering the country toward cleaner, safer and carbon-neutral energy services. PHEW. Breathe….

I pray we have more government and private investment in the clean energy sector and that fiscal restraint doesn’t rear its head in this arena unless it be to cut subsidies to more carbon-intensive sources.

Would a tax be too far out of Obama’s reach? Given the knowledge that taxes will be added in critical places in our economic system. Is carbon a tax-free pollution or can it be united with rational cost assignment?

22
Aug

Conflict of Interest: Fracking Science

By Tim McDonnell at Wired Magazine’s Climate Desk. Read the original from late July.

A professor at University of Texas was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Texas natural gas developer and came forward with a report that fracking is safe for groundwater. University administration is asking for a second look at the report.

This is what McDonnell calls “a piece in what environmental and academic watchdogs call a growing puzzle of industry-funded fracking research with poor disclosure and dubious objectivity.”

He mentions other similar conflicts of interest in other states.

22
Aug

Fracking Action

From Environment America: a time-sensitive action to support drinking water.

“Just when you thought the facts on fracking couldn’t get any worse, here’s a new one: they are fracking with diesel fuel.

Let’s tell EPA to ban diesel fuel in fracking – today.

Fracking threatens our drinking water in many ways, but according to the EPA, “use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat” to underground sources of drinking water.[1] Yet fracking operators have used diesel fuel in at least 32 million gallons of fracking fluid.[2]

Fortunately, the EPA is considering action on diesel use in fracking right now. If enough Americans make their voices heard, we can convince them to ban it. But the agency’s comment period ends this Thursday.

Please send an email today to protect our drinking water.

Diesel fuel is incredibly toxic. It contains benzene (known to cause cancer), as well as toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes, which can damage our liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

So while we continue our work to end fracking altogether, we must seize this immediate opportunity to reduce one of the worst threats dirty drilling poses to our drinking water. The comment period ends on Thursday, so we must act now.

So please tell the EPA today: diesel and drinking water don’t mix.

Yours,

Margie Alt
Executive Director

P.S. We have a rare opportunity to stop one of fracking’s greatest threats to our health. But we only have 72 hours to act. After you take action, forward this message to five friends and ask them to make their voices heard too.

[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Evaluation of Impacts 10 Underground Sourcesof Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coal bed Methane Reservoirs (June 2004) (EPA 816-R-04-003) at 4-11.
[2] Waxman, H., Markey, E. and DeGette, D., Letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson re: investigation on diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing (January 31, 2011).

22
Aug

NM Solar Power Blooming

From: A report by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council on 2011 solar trends in the US.

New Mexico shows up as one of a select few states where solar deployment is rapidly expanding. Check out the report.

“Installations are concentrated in a few states In 2011, more than two-thirds of grid-connected PV system installations were concentrated in California, New Jersey, Arizona and New Mexico, as shown. Of the top 10 states, Arizona had the highest growth, with more than 4.5 times as many installations as the year before. The market more than tripled in New Mexico and New York, and more than doubled in California, New Jersey and Hawaii. On a per capita basis, six states – Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and New Mexico – had more installations than California in 2011, demonstrating how the market is diversifying across the country.”