Centers of Power: New Mexican Alternative Energy Expert on Bill Richardson

Several thousand years ago, the ancient peoples of the Southwest built pueblos into the harsh desert cliff walls. They utilized solar heating, facing their carefully constructed homes to the south, so that the rock and mud would absorb heat in the day, and release it into the interior at night. In modern times, some of the first solar heated homes in the world were built in New Mexico. Governor Bill Richardson calls New Mexico the Solar State, and our 300-plus days of full-sun give his words weight.

I attended a public presentation on solar heating that Cedar Mountain Solar Systems provided as a community service this past Saturday, January 27, 2007, at the LaFarge Public Library in Santa Fe. Cedar Mountain Solar Systems is based in Santa Fe, close to the center of New Mexican political power, and is the premier solar heating company of northern New Mexico. They have provided solar heating and electricity for movie stars with residences in the picturesque open spaces of New Mexico, as well as important county and city projects, and most importantly, to homeowners who simply want to make a difference.

The program consisted of a historic and technological overview of solar heating as well as an environmental and economic analysis of its implementation. The speakers were a famous solar engineer by the name of Bristol Stickney, who just completed a state-sanctioned report on something I'd never heard of before - Night Sky Radiation Cooling - as well as Frank Kilmer, one of the project managers from Cedar Mountain, and Daniel James, the public liason and sales manager for Cedar Mountain. After the talk, I asked Daniel to sit for an interview for BlogHer.org.

Daniel James has worked in alternative energy - primarily the areas of geothermal and solar energy - for a decade in both Michigan and New Mexico. He joined Cedar Mountain Solar in 2006. He sipped coffee as we spoke, his brown eyes unafraid to meet mine. He carried a valise filled with Solar Facts, with literature extolling the environmental and ethical importance of renewable energy resources.

Birdie: What can you tell me about Governor Richardson and alternative energy?

Daniel: The governor has pushed for and successfully promoted alternative energy tax credits for people to use in New Mexico as an incentive, so that they can get away from the use of fossil fuels. Richardson calls New Mexico the Solar State. And in fact, there are many, many manufacturers and researchers in the state for solar and green construction using natural materials such as straw bales, pumice, and adobe.

Birdie: As a professional in the alternative energy field, what do you think motivates Governor Richardson to push for green energy solutions?

Daniel: Richardson was energy secretary under Clinton. He's had a lot of exposure to how things work in the energy sector, and also how they don't work but could. Having that real world experience probably helped him to see that we have real assets here in New Mexico when it comes to solar, and that's in spite of the fact that New Mexico has significant fossil fuel production and reserves. Someone who didn't appreciate the potential of alternative energy, particularly solar, could have been governor and thought "well, we have plenty of oil, why bother with solar?"

I think it's similar to Gov. Richardson's insight that we also have lots of open sky in New Mexico, so why not launch rockets? Hence the world's first commercial space port here in New Mexico.

(Birdie's note: the Spaceport is the first purpose-built commercial spaceport for the personal spaceflight industry. It is being built near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.)

Birdie: Do you feel Richardson has been successful promoting the use of renewable energy resources?

Daniel: Yes, he most definitely has. In addition to providing tax incentives to individuals who incorporate solar heating and electric, and green building techniques, he has also led the way in opening doors for large scale renewable energy projects. In fact, a wind farm is going in not far from where you live, Birdie. Just north of you near Springer. Did you know that at one time an electric generating wind farm was proposed for Las Vegas, but the locals turned it down because it would be unsightly? This is the kind of attitude that needs to change, and Governor Richardson is the kind of leader who knows how to explain and show the value - in terms of both money and the environment - of renewable energy.

Birdie: How do you think Richardson would do as President, in terms of alternative energy?

Daniel: Because of his vision and experience in the real world, going all the way back to his Energy Secretary days, and through all of the political convincing he did of people who didn't get what he was saying at first in New Mexico, he's proven that he can succeed in this area. I think he'll make a great Solar President.

Birdie: What hasn't Richardson done that you'd like to see him do?

Daniel: Well, in terms of solar heating, which by the way, is the best way to offset greenhouse gasses that we have available, I think it would be great for symbolic and practical reasons, for Governor Richardson to push for some high profile government projects involving solar. For example, right here in the State Capitol, wouldn't it be great if the Governor's mansion was solar heated? And how about the roundhouse itself, the very center of power in the solar state, and it's not solar. If he could accomplish that sort of thing in his own state, then Richardson could accomplish even greater symbolic and groundbreaking projects as President.

Next up: An interview with a women who knew Bill Richardson as a young boy.

Birdie Jaworski tells the stories of her rural New Mexican neighbors at La Pajaro. She is a columnist for the Las Vegas, New Mexico, Times.

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