NM residents say military stifles solar energy opportunities
Is there a great divide in Otero County? Members of the Safe Skies Coalition say the county is split by the Sacramento Mountains and business opportunities are unevenly distributed.
Walt Coffman, a member of the Safe Skies Coalition, spoke before the Otero County Commission on Thursday to discuss placing a rural representative on a committee in the current Joint Land Use Study.
"Currently, this JLUS has a number of knowledgeable individuals. The entire committee -- the technical and policy committees -- are made up of bureaucrats from federal, state, county and city agencies," Coffman said. "There is not one representative in this study from a rural business or from the unincorporated areas in Otero County."
Coffman said members from the eastern part of the county who reside in the mountains weren't being provided with an equal voice at the table in terms of the JLUS.
A JLUS is a study conducted to identify existing and potential land-use conflicts that have the potential to impair the military's mission and impact public health and safety confronting both civilian and the military instillations, according to Otero County Manager Pamela Heltner.
Coffman said that since the commission decided to participate in the JLUS, they signed a contract agreeing to zone citizens and businesses in the county.
"If we take the contract language on its face, your planning to make a good-faith pledge to implement development controls or zoning in Otero County," he said.
According to the Office of Economic Adjustment, the JLUS program, in order for it to have positive results for the participating jurisdiction and military installation, must agree to make a good-faith pledge to implement development controls to achieve compatibility.
"Those controls are what I call 'zoning' because that's just fancy budget words for zoning," he said.
Coffman expressed concern that the county and DOD would stifle business opportunities for rural residents to ensure Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range are base realignment and closure-proof.
"It's as I say, the process was designed by the DOD and is funded largely by the DOD and is to help the DOD," he said.
He said he understood the importance of having the military installations in the area for the revenue they bring into the county every year.
According to Coffman, local military bases bring in approximately $400 million to $500 million a year.
"If the military were to leave, Otero County would be devastated," he said.
Coffman said understood the importance of keeping the military in the area, but the county also has the potential to make a similar income off allowing people who live in the Sacramento Mountains to install solar farms and build wind turbines on their property.
"This is established technology that's being used -- you're using it right now on this side of the mountain," he said. "Its not being used on the other side despite the fact that there is more land area over there, and more solar and wind resources on the eastern side of this county."
He said development on the west side of the mountain is easier and, therefore, tends to be where the money goes. He added that developing on the eastern portion of the county could bring a stable form of income for the whole county.
"It's different, it's stable and it's not related to government handouts or budgeting," he said. "If the government cuts back, the solar energy is still going to be viable."
He said the argument from the DOD is that windmills would get in the way of flight training and could interrupt remotely piloted training, too.
"Our group has a proposal for that," Coffman said. "We believe there's a way to have common ground to allow the DOD to accomplish their mission and allow local business owners on the eastern side an opportunity to develop the land that is sitting idle.
He said the county has included the eastern inhabitants of the county by holding JLUS meetings with them but that the meetings weren't enough. He said what rural residents really need is a representative on the JLUS committee.
"If, for some reason, we cannot have those critical rural members on this committee to help steer and make good decisions, then I would recommend to these commissioners that they withdraw from that JLUS until such a time as they can have proper representation from the rural side," he said.
District 3 Commissioner Ronnie Rardin said he had nothing against allowing a rural representative on one of the JLUS committees.
"I personally have absolutely no problem if you want to take your time and be on that (JLUS committee)," Rardin said.
Rardin said he was bit offended and surprised the residents from the mountain region felt segregated and misrepresented. He said the commission was elected by the people to represent them.
"I know of no contrast between the east and the west side that's stopping you from developing wind energy," Rardin said. "In fact, there are no hurdles except possibly that you don't have a transmission line and it makes it unaffordable for you to come in and do that.
"We strongly encourage growth through businesses," Rardin said. "Especially that type of energy because that's 100 percent economic development."
Coffman replied that DOD literature suggested it didn't want wind turbines in the Sacramento Mountains.
District 1 Commissioner Tommie Herrell said he visited with Holloman officials and learned the windmills would interfere with the radio frequency waves for RPA program.
Coffman responded by saying more windmills are being built nationwide and the military will have to get used to it. He added that having windmills in the region might provide a form of training for the pilots to practice flying around.
Coffman stressed that renewable energy is a viable source of energy and income, and the county should find a way to make development for such energy sources easier in the mountains. He said the county should start by allowing someone from the mountain region to be a member of a JLUS committee.
Rardin said the commission would see what they could do to have a rural representative from the eastern part of the county placed on the current JLUS project.