Taos: A 4-Story Hotel and the Commodification of Solar Energy

By: Bill Whaley
22 August, 2017

The town killed the acequia system, see Spring Ditch, in order to expand and save itself. In order to save itself, the Coop is killing itself with debt. Now the Coop has found a source of free sunshine to sell and the Town is willing to buy. –Flavio

Incompetence or Conspiracy?

Today at 3 pm the Manager, Mayor, and Taos Town Council will consider approval of a three or four story hotel and a 30-year power purchase agreement with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative for solar power. (See excerpts from agenda below.)

Both the Hotel and the proposed power purchase agreement clash with the historic culture of Taos, a culture that draws tourists and second homers, the only ostensible producers of cash.

The proposed hotel, a corporate box, contrasts sharply with the historic earthy architecture based on the age-old adobe paradigms, where shape and height reflect the human scale and history created at Taos Pueblo with organic materials, which process presents a modest carbon footprint for a frugal way of life. The adobe style has been emulated in the historic district of Taos and throughout the valley by builders with block and stick-built construction. Frequently, and historically, residents have oriented their homes and gardens in order to take advantage of the sun’s energy.

Just as the landscape and natural beauty draw visitors, so the modest architecture present in private and public buildings adds to the feeling of a connection with the natural world. The historic appeal to visitors seems threatened by the Town’s overt acquiescence to corporatism in contrast to past councils, which let the community continue to speak for its own subtle attractions. The attractions of funk and tolerance are embodied in the adobe way and life-style of the indigenous native, native newcomer, and newcomer residents. Most of us thought of the energy from the sun as free like the clean air and the water in mountain streams.

Kit Carson today because of its excessive debt, estimated at $200 million, primarily exists to serve its federal bankers (USDA-RUS) and private financiers (Guzman) as opposed to the needs of its members. Electricity charges, due to the mismanaged diversification, the Guzman-Coop power purchase agreements, and general incompetence at Cruz Alta headquarters, continue to rise.

Now the Town aims to support a company, which has proved incapable of competing in the fast-paced world of Internet connectivity or Broadband/fiber optic technology sector. As the Coop competes with solar arrays for rays of sun, solar technology is moving away from centralized systems to inexpensive home-based photovoltaic solutions.

Just as computer mainframes transitioned to laptops and landlines to cell phones and away from centralized grids to wireless applications, so individuals and entrepreneurs are installing inexpensive panels and p v shingles at private homes but at one tenth of the cost of Kit Carson’s proposed production charges.

Less is more in Taos. You’re too late, cuate.

Just as those who worship the “newly discovered green energy” go weak in the knees at the mention of installing solar arrays and saving the planet, so members of the Chamber of Commerce who support “economic development” or Corporate growth embodied by box-like franchise hotels go weak in the mind despite the failed 90s tourist infrastructure. See the Paseo and all the ghostly franchises of the past: two Holiday Inns, a Ramada Inn, a Denny’s, the first KFC, the first Taco Bell, a sea food chain, Arby’s, and the Best Western franchise, etc.

Who pays for the town’s “economic development” or the Coop’s “green energy” besides the town taxpayers and Coop members, mostly to satiate the really big egos of the rock ‘n roll groupie Bellis and the energizer bunny Reyes, appointed officials who do all the thinking for the elected ones?

For the last fifty years the town fathers and occasional mother have lamented the exit of their children to higher paying jobs and the richer cultural experiences found in Albuquerque or other cities and states, an exodus that has been going on for a hundred and fifty years in rural America. They talk, talk, but don’t walk, walk.

Neither the Town nor the Coop hires the competent native sons and daughters, who return from college looking for jobs…if they speak up or think for themselves. Rather the status quo hires conformists or out-of-towners and keeps the “brain drain” open and the highway to Albuquerque clear of barricades. Now native Taosenos are voting with their cars and leaving Taos.

Hire a local guy as police chief? That’s just an outrageous idea. Or hire a local engineer at the Coop? Send him to Nebraska or Kansas.

Regardless, the natural and cultural resources of this isolated high desert semi-arid valley have historically limited growth and focused the mind and spirit on values more spiritual and philosophical or soulful than material. That’s why people come here…for something different from Corporate America and the Gentrified main street monoculture promoted in name by Bellis and his Valley Girl.

During the 4-story controversy, the Mayor, Manager and a certain councilor abused white-haired newcomers” for their public opposition to killing the culture even as the Mayor’s wife later chimed in about misbehavior by some of the vocal younger residents. But having earned the public’s disrespect, due to shenanigans, the powers that be now want “respeto.” Que Pasa?

Historically Taos has long served as a refuge for those who opposed mainstream life whether they were “anti-Chaco,” settlers with the Spanish Conquest, or outlaw members of the American occupation. Today’s cultural refugees, too, come here from elsewhere for the beauty and the culture, the tolerance and the sunshine.

(I’m not sure why the Manager and Mayor came here since they appear to ignore the native culture (s) in favor of mainstream corporate programs or their own aspiring ambition.)


From the Town’s Agenda

6. Public Hearings:

B. PZ2017-07 Large Scale Hotel Development Permit – Discussion, consideration and possible action for a Large Scale Hotel Development Permit for a 4 story 85 guestroom Holiday Inn and Suites Hotel on Parcel Number 1073146242150 on Paseo del Pueblo Sur within the HCPD “Highway Corridor Protection District” Zone within the Town limits of the Town of Taos.

C. PZ2017-13 Provisional Permit – Discussion, consideration and possible approval for a Provisional Permit for a 4 story 85 guestroom Holiday Inn and Suites Hotel on Parcel Number 1073146242150 on Paseo del Pueblo Sur within the HCPD “Highway Corridor Protection District” Zone and the “Hotel Overlay Zone” within the Town limits of the Town of Taos.

8. Matters and Reports from Town Manager.

A. Discussion, consideration and possible approval of a 30 year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative for 1MW of solar power generated by the Town on Town property at the site of the Taos Regional Sewer Treatment Plant.

For Further Reading: local history

In Severin Fowles’s An Archaeology of Doings: Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion (Santa Fe, SAR Press, 2013) the author presents material evidence and excerpts from Taos Pueblo oral histories that suggest some of the first residents of the valley were “cultural refugees, conscientious objectors who opted out of the Chacoan system and chose to build a simpler life in the northern Rio Grande” area. (Chaco’s vaunted influence circled north, south, and west for 200 kilometers but petered out after extending 50 kilometers to the east) back in 950-1200 CE.

Further, Fowles argues that “modern Taos, after all, is largely peopled by expatriates from San Francisco, Dallas, New York, and Chicago who have traded in high-tech urbanity for a more bohemian lifestyle in small desert homes built of mud and straw. Like the hippies who flocked to the area in the 1960s (though now with much more money), these recent Taos immigrants by and large view their new lives as a deliberate rejection of the capitalism, industrialization, consumerism, and class inequalities of the modern world. Moving to the desert, giving up television, raising chickens, not shopping at department stores — for a half century these have been local forms of protest. Long before the hippies of the 1960s, there were the Winter People of the 1060s (or thereabouts) — Taos’s original sixties counterculture.”

(Barrone, Bellis, and Reyes didn’t get this message.)

Archaeologists take a refreshingly long view of people and place. Neither the Town fathers nor the Trustees and their respective managers seem to possess either the historical knowledge, the imagination or vision and willingness to acknowledge the realities. As opposed to the hustlers, the average resident, Taoseno, or visitor doesn’t care about the mayor’s budget or the manager’s concerts but likes it when the potholes get filled and the lights stay on.

Still the frustration, crooked doings at the Town and Coop, historic culture, natural beauty, and funky architecture or lack of a sign code can be charming. Unlike capitalism, the economic virus meant to grow or die, folks in Taos have adapted to an enduring way of life that ignores mainstream buzz-words i.e. “events” in favor of poco tiempo and el Mitote.

As Flavio says, “The town killed the acequia system, see Spring Ditch, in order to expand and save itself. In order to save itself, the Coop is killing itself with debt. Now the Coop has found a free source of sunshine to sell and the Town is willing to buy.”

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