Albuquerque Delays Solar Decision

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Leaders in New Mexico's largest city have put off a decision on whether to join dozens of other communities that have set goals to get more of their electricity from renewable resources, a movement that has swept cities from the U.S. and Canada to Germany.

The Albuquerque City Council voted during an hours-long meeting Monday to defer for another two weeks a resolution that calls for getting at least 25 percent of the electricity used by city facilities from solar by 2025.

Some councilors were concerned about locking Albuquerque into a goal before knowing how the effort could affect the city's budget.

The pending measure highlights the city's lofty ranking for overall solar installations, the state's 300-plus days of sunshine, and threats of fires, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather linked to a changing climate.

It also claims that producing one kilowatt-hour of electricity via solar requires less water than electricity produced with natural gas or coal.

The two councilors who introduced the resolution acknowledged they have no idea how much the effort will cost. Under the resolution, they call on the city's energy council to weigh various options from retrofitting existing city buildings with solar arrays to the construction of a new solar farm. An implementation plan would be due by 2017 and the City Council could decide what path to pursue.

"With the cost of solar coming down every day, we don't know what the best strategy for us is," said Councilor Pat Davis. "But the city owns a lot of acreage of rooftops and we own a lot of open space. Usually acquiring the real estate is the biggest hurdle to getting into this game so it looks like we're going to be ahead when it comes to that."

Davis and co-sponsor Isaac Benton said the effort could serve as inspiration along with saving the city money on its electric bills.

"Albuquerque being one of the state's largest energy consumers, what Albuquerque does, so goes the rest of New Mexico," Davis said. "We're really hoping this is going to fast-track our movement to more renewable sources."

Nearly 30 states already have established renewable energy standards that require a certain percentage of electricity to come from solar, wind or other renewable sources. Another eight states have set goals.

In New York City, officials recently announced a city-wide program designed to increase access to solar through community purchasing. It's part of the city's plan to expand the use of renewable energy and curb emissions 80 percent by 2050. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to install 100 megawatts of solar on public buildings and another 250 megawatts on private buildings by 2025.

Among California's goals is doubling the efficiency of existing buildings by 2030 and getting half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Munich's target is 100 percent clean electricity by 2025; Vancouver wants to meet the same mark by 2050.

In New Mexico, the state's largest utilities say they're on track to meeting a 20 percent target by 2020.

The city of Santa Fe has its own efficiency and renewable energy mission that calls for reducing emissions and promoting renewables. It has tapped federal funding and power purchase agreements to finance more than a dozen projects since 2007.

Nick Schiavo, a utility official with the city of Santa Fe, told Albuquerque councilors that his city has been able to save nearly $300,000 a year.

"It's not as hard as it seems and there's a lot of value," he said.

As part of efforts in Las Cruces to reduce use, solar panels are lighting bus stops and pedestrian crossings around town.

Supporters say the long-term benefits will outweigh initial costs.

"We expect it to be a big return for taxpayers because our energy costs continue to climb," Davis said.