Let the Sun Shine Down on Santa Fe County

Community center in Agua Fría goes 100 percent solar, county plans to put state appropriations to use on new sustainability projects

With the recent completion of its solarization project, the Nancy Rodriguez Community Center in the Historic Village of Agua Fría can finally take advantage of Santa Fe's bountiful sunshine—and Santa Fe County gets one step closer to fulfilling its sustainability goals.

Claudia Borchert, who works for the Santa Fe County Sustainability Office, tells SFR that with an influx of $182,000 in state appropriations, the county hopes to help transform the region into a leader on sustainability in the next few years with more projects like what's been done at the community center.

The new stand-alone solar array built adjacent to the community center building is projected to generate nearly 22,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year and provide for 100 percent of the center's energy use. Officials estimate $70,243 in savings over 25 years. In addition to providing electricity, the multi-purpose structure will provide shade for future activities. The panels were installed by Taos-based company, PPC Solar.

Lois Mee, the community center's manager and a member of the Agua Fría Village Association, tells SFR discussions about solarization began several years ago. Early on, residents hoped to put up enough panels to provide 80 percent of the community center's electricity. Mee says New Energy Economy initiated a partnership with the community and with the city to push the plan forward, but the project stalled for years due to lack of funding.

She attributes the project's recent success to the agenda from County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who ran in 2016 on a platform that emphasized solarization of county properties. Hansen pushed the funding through for the solar array at the Nancy Rodriguez Community Center not long after her election.

The center is now one of 13 county buildings that receive some degree of power from solar panels, including the county judicial building downtown. Many of these projects were completed under previous commissioners, but with the new state funds coming in, Hansen says she hopes to push sustainability to the top of the county's agenda.

Hansen tells SFR the money could pay for the solarization of at least five additional buildings.

"We now have a commission who really support doing anything we can to mitigate climate change," says Hansen, adding that Santa Fe County has recently signed on to the Paris Climate Accord.

Current projects include solarization of the county administration building at Grant Avenue and Catron Street downtown. The county also recently purchased its first electric car. Hansen says someone from each county department will drive the car for a few weeks to try to increase visibility and educate the public about how to use electric cars.

The county plans to set up charging stations that will be open to the public at the Public Safety Complex on Highway 14, at the county public works building on Highway 599, and at the new downtown county administration building once it's completed.

Other projects will fall into the areas of waste management, fuel reduction, water conservation and groundwater protection, and public education around sustainability issues.

"At the sustainability office, we help talk people through the process of putting solar panels up on their private homes, we help the public understand how to recycle properly and how to handle septic sewage. We want to help people understand how they can make a difference," says Borchert, adding that raising public awareness around sustainability issues is an important part of achieving the goals set forth by the Paris accord.

"Going forward," Borchert adds, "the question we are really asking is what are the best high-impact solutions that we can achieve with the resources we have?"

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