Let’s do Los Alamos developments right

By Jody Benson, Pajarito Group

Los Alamos. It’s Science City. Time for the science of climate change to direct our city’s decisions.

According to one LANL scenario, Pit Production is hiring 1,200 to 1,600 new employees per year from 2020 to 2025. That’s a lot of new people requiring homes, infrastructure, offices, retail, schools and more

The County’s draft Downtown Master Plan is now open for comment. The draft will be completed in November. The Project Team is holding multiple online public-comment sessions. Pajarito Group members are joining these meetings to comment on issues such as land use (open and public space, brown-space infill, mixed use, landscaping), transportation (primarily a walkable/bikeable community) and, probably most important, establishing an enforceable building code requiring energy-efficient construction to support the county’s goal of zero net carbon by 2040.

If funds are available and the plan proceeds, the downtowns of both White Rock and Los Alamos will be reorganized and rebuilt. The good news? The project team continually references the 2016 Comprehensive Plan. Things have changed, however, since 2016. COVID-19 forced us into a different business model that should also reflect how residential and public space is managed. This new model offers the possibility of a new urban setting focusing on relational community, energy efficiency and open space.

More good news: At the July Board of Public Utilities meeting, the Department of Public Utilities’ Conservation Committee presented their updated Water and Energy Conservation Plan.

Our Pajarito Group strategy: The county must adopt and enforce the BPU’s updated Water and Energy Conservation Plan for both the overarching Downtown Master Plan and for individual building codes for all development within the county. We attest that although costs are initially higher to the developer/customer, the sustainability requirements will quickly result in cost savings and fewer expensive externalities for which the public and Earth would bear the burden.

To protect the planet, these requirements will need to be implemented sooner or later. We’re Science City. Let’s insist on it sooner.

The Water and Energy Conservation Plan:

  • Eliminate use of natural gas.
  • Accommodate a massive increase in residential and local solar.
  • Reduce water use by at least 1/3.

The first goal, “Eliminate use of natural gas,” is the most consequential. It is also the most controversial because it means no gas hookups for new construction — not commercial, not residential. The assumption is that all-electric utilities/appliances could cost consumers more until the county has contracted for or developed its own 100% renewable electricity. The committee understands that enforcement depends on education and persuasion to convince people to switch from polluting, inefficient gas to renewable electricity. The Pajarito Group can help with education and persuasion. Let’s not only match but exceed the Green New Deal and show the nation how to get renewable utilities right.

The Pajarito Group supports the Water and Energy Conservation Plan. But of the 20 excellent recommendations from the Conservation Committee’s plan, we can focus on:

  • Solar-ready roofs and siting for new construction.
  • Accommodating purchase-power-only hybrid solar.
  • Reducing outdoor water use with Xeriscaping education, rebates and/or incentives.
  • Coordinating and supporting energy-efficiency efforts with Los Alamos Public Schools.
  • And again: Stop issuing natural gas hookups for new construction, both residential and business.

As the plan states, resistance will come from the belief that these energy-conservation efforts will increase rates; however, “….it should also be noted that unit prices will probably go up anyway, with or without conservation. And there are scenarios where gas, electricity or water prices would go up even faster without conservation.”

Your tasks:

  1. Read the BPU’s Conservation Committee report and recommendations from the Los Alamos County website.
  2. Read the Downtown plans for White Rock and Los Alamos
  3. Take the survey and in the comments, support the updated Water and Energy Conservation Plan.

More news from the Pajarito Group

Pajarito Group working on Zero Food Waste

Astonishingly, when you add in all the externalities, the Number One greenhouse gas producer is food waste. The Pajarito Group, working with the Environmental Sustainability Board and Zero Waste Team continues to focus on food waste. As we keep saying: 40% of all food produced in America is wasted; 25% of fresh water goes to food that isn’t eaten; it takes the water from a five-hour shower to produce a pound of beef. You want more shocking facts? We posted a slide show with everything you need to know on the Sierra Club website.

Michael and Iris retire

Two long-serving Pajarito ExCom members, Michael DiRosa and Iris Chung, have departed Los Alamos for Michael’s work assignment in DC. Michael has been the group’s high-level strategist who aspired to guide our arguments to be logical, succinct, and sticking with the science. He was also the Pajarito Outings Leader. In fact, it was on one of those outings when Michael met Iris. Iris, on a business trip from sea-level East Coast to Albuquerque, longed to hike the New Mexico mountains, saw his Pajarito hike in the Sierran, called him, joined as the only one who signed up, and found herself bushwhacking up Caballo Peak post-Cerro Grande Fire. Now Iris and Michael are returning to the East Coast — to DC where we hope they both can logically, positively, sanely influence the powers in the Capitol as much as they helped influence policy in Los Alamos.  Wear a mask, social-distance, stay safe, and keep in touch. We hope the assignment is only temporary.

Let’s do Los Alamos developments right