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Plan would have city generating more solar power

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., at a Saturday news conference talks about a project approved by the City Council that aims for Albuquerque to generate 25 percent its energy from solar by 2025. City Councilors Pat Davis, left, and Isaac Benton, middle right, will soon introduce legislation that outlines the first phase of the project. CNM Dean of Applied Technologies John Bronisz is pictured far right. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., speaks at a Saturday news conference. Behind him are City Councilors Pat Davis, left, and Isaac Benton, middle right, and CNM Dean of Applied Technologies John Bronisz.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If Saturday’s weather was any indicator, the city of Albuquerque is as good a place as any to use the sun for power.

Under a cloudless, sunny sky, next to an array of solar panels at the Albuquerque Fire Department Fire Academy that power several city buildings, City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton, along with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and others announced Saturday that the city may soon get started on an effort to equip dozens of city buildings with solar panels. Once operating, the panels would significantly cut the city’s power bill, Davis said.

“Why on earth would Albuquerque not be a leading solar city nationwide?” Heinrich asked. “We have all the resources in the world.”

Heinrich worked with the city to secure federal renewable energy bonds for the project, and has supported efforts to train New Mexicans for solar industry jobs.

Davis said he and Benton will soon file legislation that will allow the city to issue $25 million in renewable energy bonds. The money will go toward installing solar panels on city buildings throughout Albuquerque.

That would be the first phase of a larger solar project the city is undertaking. The City Council unanimously passed a resolution last year calling for the city to get 25 percent of its energy from solar by 2025. The council will have to vote again to approve the sale of the bonds.

The city currently gets 3 percent of its energy from solar, said Sanders Moore, the director of advocacy group Environment New Mexico.

Davis said the first phase of the project will take the city about halfway to its goal of being 25 percent solar. The legislation will outline which city buildings will be the next ones to get solar energy. He hoped construction could get started this summer and be completed in months.

“People should be proud of our city today,” Davis said.

According to a recent report by the Frontier Group and the Environment America Research and Policy Center, Albuquerque currently generates the ninth-most solar power of all the major cities in the country, and the Duke City also generates the fourth-most solar power per capita among cities on the same list.

Moore said the city’s high ranking is thanks to businesses and homeowners who have made the switch to solar power.

The state as a whole, she said, has pushed back against investing in clean energy, especially in areas of the state with long histories of support for the oil and gas and coal industries. She said New Mexico is the second-sunniest state in the country but solar energy accounts for 3 percent of the state’s power, which ranks 13th among the states.

“We have an evolving energy system and as a country we shouldn’t leave anybody behind,” Heinrich said. “So training for the future so we take advantage of (solar) jobs is key.”

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