A majority of the people at the Rio Communities Associa-tion meeting on Monday spoke out against an electrical power plant coming to their area.
Twenty of the 35 people present said they were not in favor of a power plant being built in the Rio Grande Industrial Park.
“Electricity in our homes is not as important to us as the air that we breathe and the water we drink and the stars that we see — or the land around us,” said Kathy Nolan, a county resident.
“We all came here to get away from big cities. We’re here because we want to live a good, quality life,” Nolan said during the audience comment portion of the meeting following the presentation by Peoples Energy about the proposed plant.
“We are just trying to protect what we have come here to have. We are one of the only places, one of the only areas, where you can see so many stars. When our relatives and friends come to visit, they can’t believe (how clear the sky is),” she said.
“We’ve had people come from Japan, and they lay outside for hours and hours looking at the stars. They can’t believe how far they can see. They say ‘Wow! Wow! Wow!’
“We don’t want to lose that. We are afraid we are going to lose that. We are afraid that what we are we going to see when we look outside is fog and smog. And that we are not going to be able to breathe. And that we are all going to end up on respirators,” Nolan said.
“I just hope you can appreciate this, and, as one human being to another, we just hope you will take this into consideration.”
Nolan was among 14 people to share their opinions and thoughts about the power plant during the comment portion of the meeting.
Concerns ranged from the impact of air pollutants on the environment and residents to the impact of using 100 million acre feet of Rio Grande Utilities well water for the plant to the company potentially selling electricity to others states.
Cameron Epard, director of power generation for Peoples Energy, was on hand to provide answers to the people’s concerns.
Martha Duran said she is still concerned that the air quality permit was determined from a modeling study that used weather statistics from the Albuquerque International Airport.
“How do they figure that the weather at the Albuquerque airport is the same as here?” Duran said. “Anyone living here knows the wind currents are different.
“The modeling is approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The computer program is designed to take into consideration that there may be factors not exactly the same. The modeling must use National Weather Bureau figures. The only place to get such figures in New Mexico is the Albuquerque weather station at the airport.”
Others were concerned with the cumulative impact of air pollution on the people living near the power plant.
“The modeling says there will be less-than-significant air pollution,” Epard said. “We would not be able to build this if we were going to break federal and state environmental standards which would endanger the health and safety of the people.”
Regarding the residents’ concern for the water usage, retired physicist Joe Rizzo said he figured the water used by the power plant would equal the amount that would support 1350 households in the Rio Grande Utilities system.
“The water being promised could prevent our community from growing because there may not be enough water for both additional homes and the power plant,” Rizzo said.
James Dealy, an employee of a water well drilling company, said his concern is that the water table is already lowering and the additional demands of the power plant could cause the table to lower even faster.
“I deal with the lowering water table every day at work when we have to go in and redrill wells,” Dealy said. “I just don’t see how we have the water to support a power plant.”
Nolan asked Epard: “Can you guarantee we will not have to dig new wells because of the water table dropping?”
“We feel the 100 million acre feet of water per year is a high estimate,” Epard said of the company’s agreement with Rio Grande Utilities for water. “We don’t expect to go over that amount.”
He added the company will be doing a study with Rio Grande Utilities to determine the hydrological impact.
The question of where the electricity will be sold is another concern for the Rio Communities and southern Valencia County residents. Many people have heard that the power will be sold to California.
“You build where there is a need. We have determined there is a need for an additional power source for the Middle Rio Grande area,” Epard said. “Two years ago, there was a power outage in this area because the transmission lines from the Four Corners area were down. This is an example of why a back-up source is necessary.
“If we wanted to sell electricity to California, we would build the power plant closer to minimize outages along the lines. There are several plants being built in Arizona and California to address the needs there.”