The political talk on CNN this week focused on the "great divide" in America, the dead heat in the presidential polls and the balance of presumed blue and red states on the electoral map. There is a similar divide that gets less attention in the mainstream media, but reflects our nation's attitude toward energy consumption and conservation. In New Mexico, perhaps the best symbol of this division is in Taos, where the state's first solar energy utility is being built in eye-shot of Valle Vidal, a pristine wilderness area that might soon be transformed by some 200 natural gas wells and a spider web of roads.
Despite varying attitudes and concerns, it's clear that energy efficiency is a growing trend in New Mexico and this coming Sunday and Monday 18 environment-
The fifth annual Greenbuilt Tour, spearheaded by the New Mexico chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, was designed to educate the public on how to live "green," said Stace McGee, president of the organization.
McGee said "We want to show people that building their homes and their lives around the concept of sustainability is both practical and affordable." He said the homes on display will show how to utilize techniques such as solar heat, water harvesting and conservation in the most modern of home designs.
The tour, which has grown annually in its first four years, drawing crowds of more than 500 people last year, is broadening its scope this year, McGee said. Designers and builders will be on hand with information on how to build with environment-saving materials and will have concepts for entire community transformations to sustainable living.
"Green construction is no longer just a trend in New Mexico, it's becoming standard practice as people realize how a few small adjustments to their home designs can help the environment so much," McGee said, estimating that between 50-60 green homes are built in New Mexico every year. He said the group is hoping for more than 1,000 participants in this year's tour.
Lisa Marbury, member of the Council and co-chair of this year's Greenbuilt Tour, said the organization is working to form the strategic alliances with local and state agencies necessary to ensure that green building techniques are incorporated into future residential development.
Marbury said the U.S. Green Building Council uses a unique number system to judge the energy efficiency of a particular home. Every technique, such as the use of solar panels for energy or reclaimed water for landscaping is issued a number value and a house has to accumulate a certain number to be considered efficient.
"It really serves as a design guide for people looking to do their part in helping the environment and gives them a good starting point," she said.
The 2004 Greenbuilt Tour is being sponsored for the third consecutive year by PNM, the state's largest electricity and natural gas provider, and presently one of the largest wind energy distributors in the world. The decision to participate in the tour was part of PNM's demonstration of commitment to the environment, said Amy Miller, a spokeswoman for the organization.
Earlier this year PNM outlined a five-year plan to become more environmentally friendly, implementing programs to reduce the amount of pollution it creates and to support community efforts to increase energy efficiency. PNM also sponsors the annual Solar Fiesta in Albuquerque every October that promotes solar energy use.
"PNM stands behind any group that is trying to educate the public about energy conservation techniques," Miller said. "We all have to work together to ensure a long, healthy future for our state." PNM is doing its part to help the U.S. Green Building Council's local chapter spread the word about the tour by distributing them with their monthly utility bills.
"Our unique perspective provides a great opportunity to change the way buildings are designed, built and maintained," said Rick Fedrizzi, president of the national U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C. "Sustainable home building is fundamental for our future. With breakthroughs in science, technology and operations, it is becoming easier for people to build green homes that maximize both economic and environmental performance."
The tours are self-guided and participants are helped to navigate their way to the different homes by a guidebook that costs $5 and admits one adult. Children under 12 years of age are free. The guidebooks are on sale at both La Montañita Coop locations and at the Whole Foods Market. Anyone interested in signing up for the 2004 Greenbuilt Tour can call 242-6484 for more information or e-mail email@example.com.