Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Bernalillo Broadens Community Approach to Energy Efficiency


The abundant options for cutting energy use and accessing renewable energy can be almost too much of a good thing, as the town of Bernalillo is finding out.

Ongoing efforts have focused on town facilities with things like LED interior and exterior lighting, which significantly cut energy costs. The town also partnered earlier this year with the Albuquerque-based nonprofit Prosperity Works to winterize 42 homes for lower-income residents who couldn't afford energy and comfort upgrades themselves.

The PNM Good Neighbor Fund, Gas Company of New Mexico and the town chipped in for the work, but more opportunities are on the horizon.

"There's a lot of federal money looking at planning now," Prosperity Works CEO Ann Lyn Hall told the Signpost. "For the towns, municipalities and residents to spend time and resources to do the planning on what makes sense for them can have a real impact on the community."

The town has taken the hint and is setting up a formal planning process to replace what Mayor Jack Torres called the previous piecemeal approach.

"We're trying to figure out how to move forward and pick the best projects," Mayor Jack Torres.

On July 25, town councilors approved what is being called the Town of Bernalillo Clean Energy Community Pilot Program. The immediate goal is forming a committee to study and recommend projects focused on disadvantaged residents.

The committee includes the mayor or his designee, two town department directors, a city resident and the director of Rebuilding Together Sandoval, a local nonprofit geared to keeping people in their homes through building upgrades.

The combination of lower or fixed incomes and energy-inefficient older homes are a challenge especially for elderly residents, Hall said. "They had to choose this past week between keeping their house cool or getting their medicine," she added.

According to some reports, LED lighting can cut electricity consumption by as much as 75 percent and add years to component life compared to standard incandescent bulbs. The benefits of added insulation and better windows in reducing utility costs also are widely known.

Now the town is turning more attention to lower-income residents whose utility costs are a significant part of monthly budgets. With consumer choices expanding, the town is looking beyond the home winterized earlier this year.

While the town is adept at snagging grants and legislative appropriations, the question then becomes how and where to best apply those funds.

Prosperity Works also helped the town plan a legislative request that resulted in a $100,000 appropriation to install solar panels on a town building. They also have collaborated on a federal grant application submitted last week.

If successful, the grant would provide $400,000 for energy and weather upgrades for lower-income residents.

Separately the nonprofit and the town are working to bring community solar to Bernalillo. That would allow any resident to tap into planned 30-acre solar projects without the capital costs of installing their own.

Residents who join would receive two bills – one from PNM, the other from the solar company – that when combined would cut costs by as much as 30% for low-income subscribers and 10% for other participants, Hall said.

"As an organization, we'll be supporting what the town wants," Hall said. "We really believe communities know best what should be happening in the community."


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