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SF mayoral candidates talk green issues at first forum

SANTA FE – The mayoral campaign here got underway in earnest on Wednesday with the first of what promises to be many candidate forums prior to the March 6 election.

The focus of the forum put on by the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, attended by about 50 people, were issues related to clean energy, water conservation and sustainability.

One question asked of the five candidates was how would they plan to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy programs for the city.

Entrepreneur Alan Webber said supporting renewable energy would be an investment in the city’s future, and brought up community solar, which he said would eventually pay for itself. “The biggest change we can make, obviously, is to lobby for and see that production of community solar as our way forward, where we are actually not only creating the energy but we are in the process of investing in the production of the energy,” he said.

Webber also brought up the idea of a revolving fund, which school board member Kate Noble, another candidate, picked up on. She said a revolving renewable energy loan program administered through non-profit affordable homebuilder Homewise was in existence when she worked in the city’s economic development division.

“Sometimes what is old becomes new again and many of these ideas have been floated before and we just need to pull them back up to the current time,” she said. “I think we can bring this idea back.”

A problem was that the funding pool was too small, she said.

Peter Ives, one of three sitting city councilors in the mayoral race, suggested a funding source could be water division revenue. “If we are able to create a pool of, say, one or two million dollars against which low interest rate loans can be taken, that I think would be a very prudent use of the city’s money,” he said.

Councilor Joseph Maestas talked about forming partnerships with the county and Santa Fe Public Schools to save money, and working to change tax laws to allow cities more taxing authority and discretion in using public funding sources for energy efficiency programs. “And we can’t forget, we need to be innovative and we have to engage the private sector so we need to fully explore public-private partnerships with PNM and other entities that come to the table and serve a purpose in this regard,” he said.

Councilor Ron Trujillo agreed partnerships with the county and schools could benefit both entities. But he added that the city needed to be more aggressive about securing federal funding for energy programs. “New Mexico leaves so much money on the table because we’re not aggressive and we don’t go out and get it,” he said, adding that people he’s talked to in Washington, D.C. say there’s funding out there. “We need to have somebody in the mayor’s office, somebody within government, that’s going to go after those federal funds.”