Whole Energy Systems Transitions

A multi-organization team led by MSL has proposed the Whole Energy Systems Transitions (WEST) project for funding through a new program in New Mexico, the Collaborative Zone Grants. Created by three leading local philanthropies, the McCune, Thornburg, and Santa Fe Community Foundations, the grant “…is an opportunity for collaborations of organizations and other entities to apply together for multi-year funding to test, prove and support approaches to New Mexico’s challenges that extend beyond the mission of any single organization.”

The WEST proposal addresses the funders’ framing question, “What would an equitable energy transition look like for New Mexico communities?” Within that framework, the main issue the project seeks to address is that NM’s transition to a 21stcentury energy system – which we define as sustainable, resilient, and equitable – will have both universal impacts on all New Mexicans (primarily due to economic diversification from the state’s reliance on fossil fuel production), and also diverse impacts on the various different types and sizes of communities (rural, urban, traditional, Native American), and depending on their economic base and vitality.

WEST posits that communities can be the architects of their own best energy futures, and thus an equitable transition, if they are empowered by fact-based socio-economic planning deliberations at the local level; if they understand the technology options; and if their plans are enabled by supportive policy and regulatory regimes.

In addition to MSL (which will serve as project manager), the project’s Core Team is comprised of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UNM, Santa Fe Community College (an MSL founding partner), and The Clean Coalition (an MSL member). The Adjunct Team adds Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative (an MSL program partner), and the NM Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department in contributing roles.

The holistic and systemic aspects of WEST’s approach led to the name Whole Energy Systems Transitions, summarized as follows: Communities must proactively drive their own energy transitions, informed by sound economic, environmental, and social data and an understanding of the technical options, and supported by effective state policy and regulations. Each community’s transition will address energy’s connections to its key goals and challenges, which could include workforce transitions and jobs, education, economic development, health and well-being, sustainability, and resiliency.

If funded, the project will bring together this team of leading organizations with deep expertise in the individual component factors, as well as the community participatory planning process which is at the center of the overall approach, to pursue an innovative, integrated solution to the inherent challenges of the NM energy transition. This will result in an Energy Futures Toolkit that can be used by any community to become the architect of its own energy future, and to address its key issues of resilience and prosperity through the lens of local energy systems. The partners expect that the Toolkit will be made available for adaptation and adoption by other states and communities nation-wide.