By Muriel Carpenter
The members of Bernalillo County Ward 17B were in the parking lot saying our good-byes after having met to elect our officers and county committee members when we began discussing the need for our ward to do something meaningful in the coming year – something that our community could see and benefit from. Everyone in the group agreed what that something would be: absolute and unrelenting support of community solar legislation. We dreamed of the many residents of our precincts being able to access solar energy even if they were renters without rooftop ownership or in households which could not afford to pay for the solar route on their own.
For over a year and up until today, we met by Zoom every Monday evening at 7:00. We needed to find out more about the issue and craft our plan of action. We invited state legislators, solar entrepreneurs, leaders of environmentally focused non-profits, and Democratic Party members in other parts of the state who had brought forms of community-shared solar energy into their areas even before the official legislation had passed. We read. We shared.
Many of us, without a smidgen of engineering coursework in our backgrounds, struggled to understand the electrical grid and how it could reasonably accept an influx of private solar-generated electricity. How could communities stand up to a powerful utility that has the engineering expertise many citizens lack? How do towns and cities, tribes, and rural areas gain control of the sources of their electricity?
We sent a representative to the legislative Working Group sponsored by Senator Liz Stefanics and Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero formed after solar legislation failed to get the Roundhouse votes it needed. Those meetings helped us to get the big picture of solar energy in our state and the points of view of the diverse stakeholders involved.
We presented our community solar resolution, focused on consumer education and the inclusion of lower-income subscribers, to the DPBC Resolutions Committee. We took to our phones to call Bernalillo County Resolution Committee members to make certain that there would be the necessary quorum at the committee’s next meeting and that they understood the components of our resolution.
We followed the very helpful suggestions of State Platform and Resolutions Committee (SPARC) Chair, Sharla Parsons, to understand how to format our county resolution, show it was consistent with the state platform and at the same time reflective of local concerns. Last, but not least, we put our resolution up for SCC vote before the 2021 legislative session. In the process, the rules and timelines of our state party became much more than dry words on a page.
After community solar legislation passed this year, we began the arduous task of learning about the process of rulemaking that the Public Regulation Commission is engaged in pursuant to this new law. We proudly sent our own grassroots suggestions to the PRC.
Then we decided to form a new caucus so that our Democratic colleagues across the state could join us in the exciting and fulfilling task of making New Mexico greener while staying focused on the social impacts of environmental changes which often affect lower income residents without giving them meaningful participation in the process.
Thus, the Environmental Justice Caucus was born! Now the State Rules Committee is reviewing the caucus bylaws. Knowing about the multi-year success of the Adelante Caucus, we used its bylaws as our template with the enthusiastic support of Adelante’s Pia Gallegos. Welcomed by Chair Heather Benavidez, we attended the last meeting of the State Rules Committee to answer any concerns they might have. We are hopeful that their process of approving our bylaws will be completed in time for the SCC to approve the caucus at its October 23 meeting.
We welcome the participation of any New Mexican Democra,t no matter your environmental issue or the amount of time you can devote. To join, go to https://www.jotform.com/build/212675080208149 We will hold elections for officers electronically on October 16 and 17, and all members who have joined by October 15 will be sent self-nomination form, should they choose to run.