After five years, Truth or Consequences will re-examine its renewable-energy ordinance—Is it too limiting?

by Kathleen Sloan | January 24, 2020
4 min read
​Community activist Ariel Dougherty has approached the City of Truth or Consequences to amend its renewable-energy ordinance, pointing out the need for the City to encourage, not discourage private citizens and businesses from going green. 

The City’s ordinance makes it cost-prohibitive to go green because it limits the size of the system. The limit ensures one still pays an electric bill, Dougherty said, and getting off gas or plugging in an electric vehicle is not possible. 

She was granted permission to be on the Jan. 22, City Commission agenda. 

The City Commission and Public Utilities Advisory Board sat together to hear Dougherty’s item, as well as a presentation on the water-utility rate study (see the Sierra County Sun article for more information). 

Dougherty had been told at previous City meetings that the ordinance restricted the size of business and resident renewable-energy systems because it would violate the Sierra Electric Co-operative contract if the City “purchased” electricity from private producers. 

Sierra Electric is one of the City’s two electric wholesalers. Western Area Power Administration sells the city about 40 percent of what the City uses, limiting what it will sell the City to that amount. Sierra Electric has a contract with the City stating it is its exclusive “supplementary supplier,” selling the City the rest of its electricity. 

Sierra Electric, in the 2014 contract, allowed the city to purchase some electricity from a solar farm, which was built in 2014 and started operating in 2015. It is currently owned by SSA#4 near the Sierra County Fair Barn. 

Sierra Electric limited the capacity of the solar farm to 1.85 megawatts. It also stated the City must buy at least 500,000 kilowatt hours a month or 16.5 megawatts a year from Sierra Electric. If the City dipped below this purchase amount, contract negotiations and higher rates would be triggered. 

City Council Member George Szigeti said, “The information we were given [in 2015 when the ordinance was drafted] was if you oversize the system and people sell electricity back to the city, it would be in violation of the contract with Sierra Electric.” 

Szigeti said he asked “the attorney” if there was anything in the contract prohibiting private systems from sending electricity into the city’s grid, and was told no, “Under the current contract that issue is settled.” 

Although Szigeti said two amendments to the contract have occurred since the ordinance was passed in 2015, the 2014 contract still rules. The City sent 2014 contracts out as the ruling contract under Inspection of Public Records Act requests. Therefore the 90-percent prohibition was the City’s doing and not due to a prohibition in the Sierra Electric contract. 

Mayor Pro-Tem Kathy Clark confirmed Sierra Electric is not against private systems. She said the company told her they have about 50 customers with private solar systems. The City has less than 20. 

Sierra Electric is only concerned about larger solar farms, Clark said. 

Szigeti was a PUAB member when it drafted the 2015 ordinance adopted by the City Commission. 

Gil Avelar retired as the Electric Department director and then Ed Williams took over as the director.  Both were and are still on the PUAB board, and both expressed resistance to changing the ordinance to allow larger private systems. 

Avelar confirmed the Sierra Electric contract was not the reason for restricting the size of the system. He said the 90-percent prohibition was chosen because the private solar systems are tied to the City’s grid and during low production, switch over to the City’s system. “It still costs to get work crews and trucks and the City needs to collect that cost,” Avelar said. “At 90 percent we are about breaking even.” 

Williams said the City gets a very good price from Tri-State Electric on its transmission or “wheeling charges” because it is a Sierra Electric customer, not a Duke Energy or PNM customer. To ensure the City retains the good rate and keeps a good relationship with Sierra Electric, Williams said the City should set a limit to how much energy residents and businesses can produce privately. “Once that limit is reached, that’s it,” Williams said. 

The City Commission agreed to send the ordinance back to the PUAB for review. The next meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 5:30 at City Commission Chambers. 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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