New solar panel installation in Northern New Mexico

One Person’s Story of Going Solar in the Watershed

by Barbara Turner
We just had an ultra-modern looking aluminum roof-mount solar structure, studded with 18 beautiful blue solar panels, installed next to the old wooden shed at the top of our property here in the Rio Chama Valley. In the morning I make coffee and walk up there with my black dog just to stand in awe of it. Oddly enough, the old shed with the peeling blue paint on its door, and the new, futuristic aluminum structure (a structure we can park under to boot) seem to go together in a Northern New Mexico, synergistic sort of way.

This is the story of how that new structure was built and certified. It seemed complicated at the time, dealing with the paperwork, understanding how solar works and all the options out there these days for different systems, but in retrospect it all went very smoothly. A local friend (thank you Bruce!) who knows a lot about solar tipped us over the edge after coming out and assessing our site next to the old shed. We then chose a solar installer out of Dixon, partly because he had a decent-size crew and wouldn’t be in our hair all summer and partly because this same installer also put in a system for the garlic farmer Stanley Crawford over in Dixon as well as a bigger system for the new and beautiful Abiquiu Clinic. These were good enough recommendations for us.

First was a site analysis by the solar installer so we could be sure we were positioning the structure in an optimal spot, without much shade from the south. Next, he did a calculation using one year’s worth of our electricity bills so the right number of panels could be installed for our needs. Our system would be “grid-tied” using a net-metering measurement so we could sell excess solar energy we were generating back to the grid via Kit Carson Electric. Net metering measures the difference between the electricity you buy from your utility and the electricity your solar system generates and feeds back to the grid. So far, only just over 200 Kit Carson solarized customers are currently taking advantage of this.

There were four paperwork hoops to jump through, all completely facilitated by our solar installer: 1) signing an installer contract agreement on price and guarantees on the system 2) signing a solar net-metering contract with Kit Carson 3) filling out a solar system certification application in order to access the 10% state tax credit 4) filling out Federal Residential Energy Credit form 5695. This would be filed with the feds at tax time to access a whopping 30% tax credit. This tax credit is due to expire in 2016 but in all likelihood will be extended if the Democrats win the next general election.

With the solar installer’s help, we did a little math and determined that after accessing the tax credits it would take us about 12 years in energy savings, via the  solar panels, to pay off the purchase price of the system.  (If you had panels mounted on the roof of your house, it would take far fewer years to pay for your system.) Another calculation we had to factor in was the new Geosprings Hybrid Electric water heater that we also had the crew install which replaced an energy -sucking propane hot water heater. As a final bonus, the real estate industry now recognizes that having a solar system on your property increases your property value. If we ever sell, we will definitely come out ahead financially.

After site approval by the Planning and Zoning Dept., the cement foundation was constructed, poured and inspected. A trench from the structure to our utility pole was dug and a line installed and inspected so we could feed the grid. Luckily our utility pole was near by so the trench didn’t have to be long. The aluminum structure kit, with solar panels destined for the roof, went up like an erector set and took a crew of four a little over a day to assemble. One final inspection from Kit Carson and we turned on our system for the first time. Already we can see on the meter that came with the system that we are generating more electricity than we are using and this will come in handy as we head toward winter and higher electricity use.

Every morning, I still make my cup of coffee and walk up there with my black dog just to stand in awe of the deep ocean blue solar panels gathering energy from the sun. For me, this will always be the summer we went solar. I stand there satisfied with our investment, and even more, the feeling that I am now living a little lighter in our watershed, here on the blue planet.

Barbara Turner is a solar power advocate and is on the board of directors for RACC.


More Information About Going Solar

Other electric utility companies across the country are helping to finance homeowners with the upfront costs of going solar.

Installed solar photovoltaic system prices in the US have dropped steadily – by 12% from last year and 45% from 2010.

“In Washington there are a lot of people who don’t understand how quickly clean energy is becoming the industry standard.”   — Sen. Martin Heinrich

There are now 1,600 people working on distributing solar in New Mexico.

A great website, SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association), will give anyone interested in things solar an insight into the practical and political aspects of the industry. For instance they have information about REAP (Rural Energy for America), which provides financial assistance, via grants and loans, to agricultural producers and rural small businesses so they can purchase, install, and construct renewable energy systems. They also have information about jobs and education in the solar industry. Go to <> for more information.

Uranium Alert for your Watershed
The undeniable visual impact of the recent Gold King Mine contamination via the Animas River and eventually over the border into New Mexico is a vivid illustration of an age-old unregulated and government -subsidized mining industry that will continue to pose serious problems for many watersheds in the west for years to come. According to the New York Times, the drainage from these mines has compromised nearly 40% of the headwater areas of our western watersheds. Is the Rio Chama Watershed one of those affected watersheds?

Indigenous peoples were the first miners in Rio Arriba County. They mined successfully as well as respectfully, for mica, clay pigments, and obsidian and chert for arrowheads.  Later on, the Federal Mining Act of 1866 established industry-favoring rules and regulations for mining by settlers and an eventual boom took place from 1870 to 1890. Sandstone and limestone uranium deposits, manganese, vanadium, placer gold, coal, copper and silver were all found in the county. Very little mining occurred after World War II, an illustration of the disruptive boom and bust cycle of the mining industry. Currently, aggregate pits (sand, gravel, scoria and pumice) are active in the county.  And according to a USGS (United States Geological Survey) study, there are a total of 27 uranium mines having an unknown status or  “producing” in the county as well.

According to EARTHWORKS, an online resource for news about the environmental impacts of mining, there are 137 abandoned uranium mines in New Mexico. After the arms race leading up to WW II the price of uranium plummeted and mines were abandoned. However there is the potential for these mines to be re-opened and a new extraction method deployed. In Situ Leaching accounts for most uranium production in the U.S. these days and involves a method similar to fracking for oil and gas but carrying even worse dangers for us and the water we drink. The state of New Mexico has the second largest known uranium reserves in the U.S. So yes, there is a potential danger here in our watershed. The Navajo Tribe declared a moratorium on uranium mining in 2005 for good reason.

Dr. Galen Knight, a member of the RACC advisory board, has been researching oil and gas, and geothermal fracking, as well as In Situ Leaching for uranium, looking for potential serious impacts in our watershed should those industries become active here. According to Galen, any kind of fracking or In Situ Leaching in the watershed could release dangerous TENFORM radiation, as well as natural uranium deposits, from and into the geologic formations that contain our drinking water. According to Galen, very little economically viable uranium is still there for the mining industry to exploit due to the crushing and flushing away of most of it by glaciation and the sheer volume of ice, melt, and rain that has come down our watershed since the Nacimiento and Brazos geologic uplifts.  However, there is the real potential for all the various fracking industries to piggyback on one another and co-produce various combinations of oil, gas geothermal and uranium.  Fracking, in any form it comes in, could release TENFORM radiation into our water supply, and the drinking water heading down to the southern part of the state and parts of Texas and Mexico.

Another concern is the documented increase in earthquakes from wastewater injection wells that is associated with these industries. Our earthen and earth-filled dams at Lake Abiquiu, El Vado, and Heron have existing fault lines nearby and may be vulnerable to these earthquakes.

Also of note is the history of how the Wilderness Area for the Chama River was originally established. This wilderness area was only established because it was determined and documented that there were no mineral, or other resources like oil and gas, geothermal and uranium to be found in sufficient quantities to warrant development. Galen suggests that, with that knowledge, further drilling in the Rio Chama Watershed would be pointless and certainly not worth the grave risks it would pose for the watershed. Galen recently wrote extensive, extremely well documented comments in response to the EPA’s recent hydraulic fracturing report concerning drinking water supplies and fracking. You can read his full comments here.

In Rio Arriba County, within which our watershed’s delicate ecosystem exists, 12,653 acres have been claimed for mining activities. The state does not have dedicated funding for cleaning up pollution from abandoned mines. Eighty six square miles of public lands in New Mexico have already been sold to private interests for $2.50 to $5.00 per acre. This heavily subsidized sale of public lands was authorized under the same Federal 1872 mining law, the very mining law that allowed the Animas River disaster to happen.

The factors currently hampering new mines and extractive industries in general from opening in the state are water rights issues, adverse public perception, and complexity and length of time for the entire regulatory process to occur at fed an state levels. It is obvious that, as watershed residents and stakeholders, we have a potentially powerful and profound role to play in insuring no mining or fracking activity harms our only watershed.

Protest Letters Finally Due a Response from the BLM

The letters that so many of you wrote a year ago to protest the BLM leasing of parcels in the watershed for oil and gas exploration are finally generating an official response from the BLM.

The parcels in the Santa Fe National Forest and along the Continental Divide in our watershed were leased but the leases were never finalized due BLM’s delayed response to your letters. They are required to respond before proceeding.

Peggy Baker, the RACC representative that interfaces with the BLM and Becky Hunt, finally got the word that protest letter responses are expected this mid-September.

The fact that the BLM protest response has been so long in coming indicates that our protest letters have been effective. The delay alone allowed for plummeting oil prices to make it even less appealing for the BLM to finalize fracking leases for  the lower Rio Chama Valley, an area that is characterized by the  BLM Farmington Field Office geologist as having “low” potential for recovering oil and gas.

It seems that just by paying attention, doing our research on the watershed ecosystem and geology, and having BLM managers understand that RACC has serious concerns about any oil and gas development and the resulting potential degradation of our watershed, we have engaged in an effective fight to insure our watershed’s health.

Thanks to all of you who responded with vigor to RACC’s call to action!

We will continue to keep you posted, here in the bi-monthly newsletter, our facebook page and our website. Stay tuned to protect your watershed!

Subscribing to our Newsletter

Readers who have signed up to receive our bi-monthly newsletter via email are now considered non-voting members of RACC. If you wish to unsubscribe you can do so at any time either at the bottom of this page or by emailing

The next monthly board meetings will be held on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 at 4 pm at the Rio Arriba Rural Events Center, 122 route 554, just north of the intersection of highway 84 and the Highway 554 in Abiquiu. The second hour of each meeting is open to the public and we encourage and welcome your input, comments and concerns regarding the air, water and land of the Rio Chama Watershed.