T or C Public Utility Advisory Board continues to limit citizens’ ability to install and benefit from renewable energy systems

by Kathleen Sloan | March 30, 2021
5 min read
"Like it or not, [private] renewable energy systems are coming . . . all utilities see this coming. I don’t want T or C to put limits on size. It makes us look antiquated," argued PUAB Chairperson George Szigeti at the advisory board's last meeting in a vain attempt to change city policy. Source: SolarNation

At the most recent meeting of the Truth or Consequences Public Utility Advisory Board, the majority voted to reject lifting limits on renewable energy systems, despite their chairperson’s and two local residents’ cogent arguments for allowing businesses and homeowners to have bigger systems.

The 2014 ordinance, which limits the size of private renewable energy systems to protect the city’s monopoly on electricity production for T or C residents and business owners, will stay in effect, unless the city commission decides to override the PUAB’s and Electric Department Director Bo Easley’s recommendations. Currently systems must be sized at 90 percent of the owner’s previous year’s use of electricity bought from the city-owned utility. Any new construction—new homes or businesses—cannot install a renewable energy system until they have established their baseline usage by buying a year’s worth of electricity.

More than a year ago, T or C residents Ariel Dougherty and Ron Fenn approached the utility board with a request that the 90 percent limit on solar production be lifted. They submitted research and analysis that were largely verified by PUAB Chairperson George Szigeti, who argued for lifting the restriction at the board’s March 15 meeting.   

Throughout Dougherty’s and Fenn’s year-long interaction with the PUAB, the major sticking point was the claim that the limit could not be lifted because it would threaten the city’s contract with Sierra Electric Cooperative. The city buys electricity from Sierra Electric at a wholesale rate.

Dougherty and Fenn proved, using city documents—backed by Chairperson Szigeti’ similar findings—that private solar production in town is too small to threaten the city’s contract with Sierra Electric.

The city is required to purchase 16.5 million kilowatt hours a year from Sierra Electric. The city purchased about 26 million kilowatt hours from Sierra Electric in 2019, providing about a 10 million kilowatt hours allowance for private solar production before the contract is threatened.

T or C’s 54 private solar producers put about 240,000 kilowatt hours back on the grid through excess production in 2019, Fenn pointed out at the PUAB’s March meeting. The 240,000 kilowatt hours represents 2.4 percent of the 10 million kilowatt hours leeway, a level of solar production that would hardly threaten the city’s minimum-purchase requirement with Sierra Electric.

About 2,250 additional homeowners and businesses would need to install solar systems to produce 10 million excess kilowatt hours. Dougherty pointed out it took about seven years for the 54 private solar producers to all come on line, and that it would take many more years, if ever, before there were 2,250 private producers in town.

Dougherty’s, Fenn’s and Szigeti’s evidence and arguments did not sway Electric Department Director Easley and a majority of the PUAB members. The board passed a motion three to two to keep the 90 percent restriction in place.

Before the vote, Easley and Szigeti squared off on disallowing installation of renewal energy systems on new buildings. Easley insisted that the building had to go up and the owner had to establish a one-year history of electric use before applying to the city to put in a renewable energy system.

“You’ll end up retrofitting,” Szigeti said. “Which is more expensive. . . . Like it or not, renewable energy systems are coming . . . all utilities see this coming. I don’t want T or C to put limits on size. It makes us look antiquated.”

Szigeti may be referring, in part, to the recent New Mexico legislative session that saw the consideration of several bills encouraging the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Senate Bill 84, the Community Solar Act, is on Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. It will allow community members to subscribe to a large solar array, similar to owning stock in a company, but the dividend is a smaller electric bill, with less costly energy coming from a renewable source. It would appear that T or C residents cannot take advantage of the legislation, if it is signed by the governor, since the city-owned electric company controls who may hook into its electrical network and likely would not allow the competition.

PUAB member Ron Pacourek responded: “I don’t care about what others are doing.”

“Do you want people to move to this city?” Szigeti asked. Pacourek did not answer.

“You were for the 90 percent restriction,” Pacourek said to Szigeti, pointing out the PUAB chairperson had spearheaded the 2014 ordinance. “What’s changed?”

“The 90 percent limit was put in to pass the solar ordinance. The electric department was not in favor of it. It was done to appease the electric department and get their support,” Szigeti said. But the purpose of PUAB is not to help maximize city revenues and citizens’ dependence on T or C’s electric department.

It is a citizen’s advisory board that was created to give residents and businesses a voice in the management of the city’s utilities.

Dougherty had pointed out earlier in the meeting that the PUAB is not representative of the people and does not often solicit or act on citizen input. It has historically long been an all-male board comprised primarily of retired city workers, Dougherty said.

The current board has two retired city workers: past Electric Department Director Gil Avelar and past Streets Department Director Don Armijo. The private citizens on the board are Szigeti, Pacourek and Jeff Dornbusch. Dornbusch voted with Szigeti to amend the 2014 ordinance and lift the restrictions.

Easley had argued that even the 90 percent restriction is not limiting enough. In his opinion the 2014 ordinance should have mandated that private systems could produce no more than 80 percent of the owner’s previous year’s electricity consumption. If the 90 percent restriction is enforced, he said, there should be no excess electricity put on the grid by private solar producers. “They’re [private solar system owners] cheating,” Easley claimed.

Szigeti pointed out the city determines the 90 percent usage baseline and draws up agreements with the private solar producers. If they are overproducing, “it’s with the blessing of the city,” Szigeti said.

Electric department staff does not determine the size of private renewable energy systems property owners may install. According to the city’s December 2020 quarterly budget report submitted to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, the electric department budget includes $142,000 to pay outside contractors. Steve House of Triple H Solar in Rio Rancho is among them, according to city documents obtained by Fenn via an Inspection of Public Records Act request. House is paid about $60,000 a year to determine the size of renewable energy systems allowed T or C citizens, among other work.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com 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.


After five years, Truth or Consequences will re-examine its renewable-energy ordinance—Is it too limiting?
by Kathleen Sloan | January 24, 2020

​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…

Public Utility Advisory Board has seats open, or does it?
by Kathleen Sloan | June 14, 2020

The Public Utility Advisory Board has three seats with terms expiring, but will the City Commission open up those seats or let current members serve…

2 thoughts on “T or C Public Utility Advisory Board continues to limit citizens’ ability to install and benefit from renewable energy systems”

  1. There has never been one real plan since we became members of this community 20 years ago. If there has been one or more
    fully vetted and realized plans moving forward, I invite all of of you to tell me what they are. It will help all of us to know what your observations and participation has been. And yes, we volunteered for a number of projects up until a few years ago. Volunteers need other volunteers to step up and follow.

    To: Mr. Swingle and the Commission. How about a substantial, smart and meticulous overview of the city commitments, the volunteer committees, the budget, who fills the city and county positions and how well are they doing their jobs? (I would like to point out the need for a real town cleanup, yard cleanups, too.) Make plans for two years, five years, seven years, ten years and beyond.

    The Public Utility Board . . . well. There needs to be an leader who can integrate the relationship between the county, the city and everyone that impinges on the whole. Who is that person?

  2. Come on PUAB, get with the times. Your actions will hurt new businesses that want to come to T or C and install solar. Making a person or a commercial venture establish a baseline for a year will only increase the cost of the solar system installation after a year. This is a ridiculous policy that puts an undue burden on a resident or business.

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