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City receives federal dollars for clean energy plans


A new sustainability effort from the city of Las Cruces was recently awarded an over $400,000 federal grant to support a clean energy workforce, mitigate future extreme heat events and promote efforts to lower energy costs for residents.

The Plugged in for Good (PIFG) Energy Alliance project, stemming from the City of Las Cruces’ Sustainability Office, has been in the works for several years, though organized planning officially started last year.

City Sustainability Officer Lisa LaRocque explained that the alliance is made up of local stakeholders including city administration and various members of the community. The goal is to establish policies and programs to make sustainable energy and professional development more attainable.

“The three key issues that we're dealing with are energy efficiency, energy affordability and also health and safety, especially when it comes to extreme weather events,” LaRocque said.

She explained that about 20 community members from different industries, political affiliation, views and values gathered in 2023 to discuss the expansive topic.

“We spent a whole year just looking at all the different dimensions of this issue – about low income, moderate-income housing, the housing stock, the costs that people were having to pay for their utilities, the age of their houses and then what options that people had to be able to get their house upgraded or retrofitted. And what were some of the barriers to doing that,” she said.

LaRocque acknowledged that there are already programs in place to address these issues through agencies such as state and federal departments of energy or departments of housing and urban development, but the process of qualifying for home upgrades can take a long time or require people to “go through a lot of hoops.” Only a small number of homes are upgraded per year.

She said the alliance’s goal is to make upgrades or retrofitting more easily accessible. This includes reducing energy burden by promoting clean energy in cooling, heating and water systems.

LaRocque also explained that the alliance took a look at how many people in Las Cruces are energy burdened, or who devoted over 6 percent of their wage to energy costs. She said some people were up to 14 percent while other people of means were as low as 3 to 2 percent.

The alliance also plans to make workforce education and training in sustainable retrofitting more accessible by covering training costs, registered apprenticeships and getting professional development recognized as paid time.

The strategies and funding for the alliance’s vision are still in the planning phase. However, action is already being taken to retrofit older houses in the city with sustainable home energy systems. Ultimately, the replacement will lower energy costs for Las Crucens, assisting low-income families in particular while also reducing the city’s energy burden.

Other aspects of the alliance involve providing workforce sustainability training, which will provide job security down the line as industries move toward more environmentally sustainable futures.

The group of stakeholders shared ideas of how to get the work done and, once agreements were reached, grants were applied for.

The PIFG alliance has received several grants so far to support its mission, including $470,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy through its Energy Futures Grants program.

“This grant award will be a tremendous boost for some of our residents, particularly those who live in Las Cruces’ older, more established neighborhoods,” said Las Cruces Mayor Eric Enriquez in a news release. “This grant is designed to help them retrofit and modernize the homes they have worked so hard to own. The improvements to their homes will make them more energy efficient and will improve the quality of life for their families.”

According to a news release from the DOE, $27 million in financial and technical grants was awarded to 40 projects run by state, local and tribal governments throughout the country.

“Energy Future Grants fosters out-the-box thinking and collaboration to help develop solutions to encourage and facilitate successful clean energy projects (benefiting) disadvantaged communities,” according to the news release.

The first grant awarded to the PIFG was $400,000 from the Buildings Upgrade Prize through the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. LaRocque said the guidance from grant organizers is to plan and test this year and then implement housing retrofitting in 2025. She said the alliance will likely retrofit 30 to 40 houses next year.

“There's a lot of money and interest going into the energy transition that we have to change because of climate change,” LaRocque said. “Our goal ... it's not one thing, it’s everything. We’re really challenging ourselves to see how we can change the system; so it's a real transition that's a win-win.”

Leah Romero is a freelance writer based in southern New Mexico. She can be reached at www.LeahRRomero.com.

federal grant, Plugged in for Good (PIFG) Energy Alliance, clean energy plans