An Update on Climate Masters

In 2011, the State of New Mexico announced that the New Mexico Climate Masters program would be cancelled after six sessions in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and funding that had already been allocated for the program would not be utilized. The Santa Fe Watershed Association saw the value of this program and immediately began a fundraising effort to keep Climate Masters going. After raising funds from the N.M. EPSCoR program, the City of Santa Fe, and from Climate Masters graduates, the Santa Fe Watershed Association offered the 30 hour program during May and June of 2012.

Throughout the ten-week session, nineteen participants learned ways to reduce their own carbon and water footprints along with ways to encourage others to do the same. Expert guest speakers presented information on water, renewable energy, food, climate science, and permaculture. In addition to the Climate Masters handbook, everyone read A Great Aridness by Bill deBuys, as supplementary reading. Bill then presented at our last class, leaving all inspired to take action.

The program was offered for free with the understanding that each student would agree to 30 hours of volunteer climate outreach when the program was completed. In this particular case, and for the first time that we know of nation-wide, the group decided to maximize their time and energy and contribute to a collaborative project.  After exploring dozens of ideas, they chose to develop a campaign for switching the New Mexico Capitol Complex to solar energy, focusing specifically on the Roundhouse.

Meetings began in earnest during August 2012, and members quickly renamed their group “Got Sol?” to better reflect their mission. “’Got Sol?’ is a group of volunteers dedicated to educating the public about alternative energy and providing solar leadership in New Mexico. The mission is to promote solar power in public spaces. Our first goal is to install solar panels at The Roundhouse, New Mexico’s State Capitol. By utilizing Santa Fe’s three hundred days of sunshine per year, we will harness the sun to sustainably power The Roundhouse. Our sun is New Mexico’s most enduring gift to its people. We will make good use of it.”

After much planning, discussion, and research, Got Sol? met with Senator Peter Wirth in December 2012. It was decided that a capitol outlay request for $250,000 to fund the design and installation of solar panels on the roof of the Capitol Complex parking garage would be the best approach. These solar panels will help offset the $60,000 monthly electrical bill incurred by the Capitol Complex and are expected to pay for themselves in a five to ten year time frame. At this same time, Got Sol? began meeting with the Sierra Club to co-sponsor a Renewable Energy Day at the New Mexico Legislature.

In early 2013, members of Got Sol? began developing the capitol outlay request and went office to office around the New Mexico Legislature gaining support from 26 Senators and Representatives. As of early March 2013, $130,000 of allocated funds have been confirmed with an additional $70,000 still a possibility. This kind of financial support is a considerable success given the short lead time!

On March 1, 2013, the first Renewable Energy Day at the New Mexico Legislature coordinated by Got Sol? and the Sierra Club aimed to educate the public, legislators, and their staff on the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy. Groups including the Renewable Energy Industry Association, Gallup Solar, Renewable Taos, Green Building Council, and the New Mexico Solar Energy Association distributed information on renewable energy to hundreds of citizens, legislators, and legislative staff. Additionally, a press conference was held in the Rotunda with inspiring speakers such as Senator Bill Soules; State Auditor Hector Balderas; Regina Wheeler, Board member of the Renewable Energy Industries Association; Sister Rose Marie Cecchini, founder of Gallup Solar and even New Mexican youth displaying their own artistic solar panels.

Both the staff and Board of the Santa Fe Watershed Association stand strongly behind the Climate Masters program and hope the actions of the the 2012 N.M. Climate Masters graduates to solarize the Roundhouse will serve as inspiration to us all.