Harnessing solar power for resilient Native communities

Commentary: People most impacted from the ongoing ecological destruction from our outdated extractive industries deserve to be in the ‘driving seat’ of New Mexico’s clean energy future. A Community Solar and a Climate Solutions Act are first steps to do that. 

Indigenous communities in New Mexico know first hand what it means to live in a literal toxic relationship with those responsible for the climate crisis. 

Looking back at my life, two memories linger in my mind. The unsettling images of elders and loved ones’ health deteriorating from the toxicity in our air and never-ending extraction around our homes from greedy industries. 

These are two memories that define the reality of where I grew up – Pueblo, CO and Shiprock, NM – both sacrifice zones for extractive operations. 

For far too long extractive industries have sold us a lie –that somehow our communities would perish without them. Meanwhile, our communities are left with no other option than to sacrifice our environment and health for them. 

And what do we get in return? A poisoned environment and a worsening climate crisis. 

New Mexico must find the way to effectively decarbonize our energy economy while also creating new economies for our communities –not corporations. 

We cannot afford for corporations to directly benefit from NM’s new energy economy while blocking our Native communities’ potential for building new wealth and resilient economies. 

This is exactly why we must pass the Community Solar and Climate Solutions Act. 

Our communities deserve the opportunity to own, create and distribute our own solar energy while also implementing a statewide strategy to prepare and support communities for the impacts of climate change and ensure frontline communities directly benefit from a new clean energy economy, through the creation of high-quality jobs and economic development opportunities.

 

Creating a legal pathway for our Tribal communities to own local solar farms would not only address the climate crisis but would also commit NM to a much economic justice plan. It would enable our communities to own and benefit from solar energy production, regardless of whether they have the adequate rooftops or not. 

 

It would simply give us the ability for the sun’s energy distribution to be owned by the same communities who consume it. It would make access to energy a basic human right and not a product to be sold for profit. 

 

Alongside community solar farms, the Climate Solutions Act–House Bill 9–will ensure that this new infrastructure directly benefits those most impacted by the climate crisis.  It will allow our communities to have a ‘seat at the table’ directly guiding NM into a Just Transition for our communities. 

 

For far too long, our communities have been abused by energy producers and it is time we take our power back and build a future in which our communities are self-resilient. A future in which our children do not grow seeing elders and loved ones getting ill from toxic air, land and water. A future in which our communities are no longer in a toxic relationship with oil and gas and a clean energy economy prioritizes our families and not CEOs. 

 

It is time NM acts boldly on climate, and our needed economic diversification and development. Because after all, a healthy and clean environment doesn’t contradict a diverse and sustainable economy.  

 

Joseph Hernandez lives in Shiprock, NM and is the Diné Energy Organizer for NM Native Vote.