City Of Truth or ConsequencesCITY OF TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES – POWER PROVIDER

The City of Truth or Consequences on how they used a power purchase agreement to save $2.5 million dollars.

The Truth or Consequences Electric Department provides electricity to residents within Truth or Consequences and Williamsburg. The City has and continues to be interested in renewable energy, specifically solar energy, to help offset some of its operating costs and helpresidents save money on their electric bills. To that end the City enlisted the help of a third party consultant (Triple H Solar) to help determine an optimal size, location and support the procurement of the solar energy in the form of a power purchase agreement (PPA). The City was able to secure an energy purchase agreement from a local New Mexico solar installation company that will save us approximately $2,500,000 over the term of the contract. 

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project? 

Getting input from a third party was the catalyst to making the project a success. It’s a profession that we, and suspect most municipalities, don’t interface with much at all. So having support to help guide us with the decision-making was very useful. We did not have the cash to purchase the asset. Sowe used a power purchase agreement (PPA) to integrate the solar energy into our existing infrastructure. The PPA we solicited in an RFP was a no-upfront-cost option, which was very attractive to us. There are options inside those agreements that will let public agencies infuse cash amounts if some is available below the total purchase price of the solar array. The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department was also helpful in educating the City on the “Do’s and Don’ts” related to contracting in the solar energy arena as well as providing general education on how solar energy works and could benefit the City.

What benefits have you realized?

To date, our savings have been small. But we knew that going in when we contracted for the solar energy purchases. Over time, the savings will increase, which was our ultimate goal. The project has attracted some economic development opportunities and other local entities (public and private) have now become more interested in solar energy. Our projected savings will allow us to invest more in our existing electrical infrastructure.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

Education was the largest challenge overall. The concept of how the solar energy flows and is accounted for was foreign to most of us. But once it was explained to us, it was easy to understand. Public education on the savings and how the project could be paid for also took some time. But once we took the time to educate ourselves and answer questions from others, the process was much smoother.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project? 

Get some general “Solar 101” training to understand the basics. Also, truly understand what your electrical usage needs are collectively (system-wide if you own your own electrical distribution system) or per facility and what solar energy can actually offset relative to the usage.

Anything else?

Make sure your analysis takes into account pending future energy rate changes from your electric supplier and the growth of facilities. Make sure you’ve made all the energy efficiency modifications reasonably available to the facilities in question so you don’t mistakenly oversize a solar array after energy efficiency measures are taken. And don’t take on the project without some expert support to help you through the process.

Kit Carson Rural Electric CoopKit Carson Rural Electric Cooperative – Power Providers

Kit Carson Rural Electric Cooperative on their path to achieve 100 percent daytime solar production.

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC), based in Taos, N.M., is on a journey to attain 100 percent daytime solar energy production by 2022. This extremely innovative and challenging solar initiative will install up to 35 megawatts by harnessing the energy from the sun. KCEC is strategically placing the solar arrays throughout the Enchanted Circle for reliable and resilient energy generation. For grid modernization, KCEC is integrating its broadband network into the electrical system for full solar array control. KCEC is collaborating with northern New Mexico pueblos, municipalities, and communities to complement and enhance economic development opportunities. KCEC is also utilizing local labor to build the solar installations. Finally, KCEC is committed to providing Solar Energy for All.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

KCEC is the first cooperative to buy out of its power contract from Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative. Guzman Renewable Energy Partners (GREP) became KCEC’s new energy provider. GREP is an active partner in reaching the renewable energy goals set by CEO Luis A. Reyes, Jr. and the Board of Trustees. GREP and KCEC have secured financing through a third-party developer for the 35-megawatt solar initiative and other potential energy storage projects. 

In 2010, Kit Carson Technologies (KCT), a division of KCEC, procured $64 million dollars in a federal loan/grant from the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act to construct an extensive fiber network that serves Kit Carson’s service area. KCT’s reliable broadband network offers rural communities up to gigabit speeds and allows KCEC to create two-way communication between energy storage, solar arrays, and the electrical grid. Ensuring that innovative solar projects are integrated with a fiber network is imperative for the future of renewable energy.

What benefits have you realized?

KCEC’s goal to reach 100 percent daytime solar by 2022 brings endless benefits to north-central New Mexico’s rural communities—known as the Enchanted Circle. First, stabilized affordable electric rates allow members and businesses to forecast and plan for the future. Both public and private entities can market the advantages of 100 percent daytime solar. KCEC is laying the foundational infrastructure to support economic and community development with each unique community. The solar energy produced by KCEC will positively impact the environment, creating greener energy for members. In addition, KCEC is committed to hire and promote hiring regional employees and contractors for on projects to construct facilities.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

The first challenge was the contractual barriers to renewable power generation. Second, was the strategic placement of the arrays and connecting the power generation into a smart grid. Third, KCEC continues to educate its members about the importance of working with the cooperative to generate renewable energy for all, rather than solely for individuals. This is the purpose of solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy. All people, regardless of their income, must have access to the benefits of renewable energy.

As a utility, KCEC is constructing these arrays in areas suitable for optimal productivity and operational benefit. Instead of building one massive 35-megawatt array, KCEC is placing multiple arrays throughout its service territory to take advantage of different weather conditions. If it’s a cloudy day in Taos County, KCEC will still be generating electricity in Rio Arriba and Colfax counties. Because of the strategic placement of the solar arrays, KCEC members will not have to incur the cost of upgrading infrastructure. Finally, property and GRT taxes will be distributed amongst every KCEC community for schools, municipal, and tribal projects.

KCEC has found a path to pursue renewable energy as a cooperative and is leading the way towards the future Americans and New Mexican desire. 

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Identify your Community’s Visions and Goals for Renewable Energy: Collectively, agree on the needs and wants of your community. Is your community interested in renewable energy? If so, address the challenges and benefits of incorporating renewable energy into your community. Use your energy experts to devise a strategy and plan that will work within your geographical boundaries.

Community Inclusion: Create a process that will provide solar energy for residents, pueblos, municipalities, and schools in your community. This allows every person to embark on the path of renewables or as KCEC says, “Solar Energy for All.”

Partner with a Cooperative Utility, Organization or Entity: Align with a local cooperative utility and organizations that have the resources and tools to implement a renewable project. KCEC encourages the participation of local municipalities and nonprofit renewable groups. KCEC recommends communities find suitable partners that share the same vision and can assist in planning, construction and financing.

Design a Feasible Renewable Deployment Plan: Work with your local utility to design a feasible renewable deployment plan.  For instance, where renewable energy generation and storage resources need to be located so that your community has a reliable energy grid system for everyone.

Thank your senator and political leaders: For passing legislation that enables a clean, renewable future for our children. You can also challenge them to take the next step.

CNM And UNMCNM And UNM – Jobs

CNM in partnership with UNM on their new certificate in Sustainable Building Technology, funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), in partnership with the University of New Mexico (UNM), recently unveiled a new certificate in Sustainable Building Technology. It equips students, including those currently working in the construction fields, to be more skilled and knowledgeable in the sustainable practices that are becoming more and more common in building technology.

Green, or sustainable, construction focuses on producing buildings and other facilities that reduce environmental impacts and use resources more efficiently. Many of these benefits are achieved through more efficient energy and water systems and through the use of recycled or renewable materials. The Sustainable Building Technology Certificate introduces concepts of sustainable construction and construction management through theory and lab courses. Students completing the certificate may continue on to the Construction Management Associate of Applied Science Degree, to which many of the courses articulate. In addition, professionals in the construction industry may also use this certificate to enhance their skill set.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

The curriculum was determined using a DACUM (Developing a Curriculum) process, in which a variety of representatives from across the construction and construction management fields were brought together for facilitated conversations. Through the DACUM, essential knowledge, skills and abilities were identified and used to either create a new curriculum or refine existing curriculum within the CNM Construction Management program.

Costs associated with the DACUM, along with support for curriculum development have been provided through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technology Education grant that was sub-awarded through the UNM Department of Civil Engineering. UNM’s role includes program outreach, mentoring for students in CNM’s certificate program, and working with local industry to encourage internships.

What benefits have you realized?

The certificate is brand new, so the industry-supported curriculum is current and relevant to the workplace. It also creates a pathway for incumbent workers to enhance their skills and “marketability” in their field. The DACUM also enabled program faculty to develop new industry connections as resources for further program development and for placement opportunities for program graduates.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Recommendations for anyone seeking to launch a similar project would be to emphasize collaboration with all project stakeholders. This helps mitigate any issues that may arise due to preconceived ideas about how the project should be designed, developed and implemented.

Mescalero Apache Hatchery Mescalero Apache Hatchery - Tribes

Mescalero Apache on powering a fish hatchery with solar

The idea for the solar array project at the Mescalero Tribal Fish Hatchery was first introduced in 2014.  The hatchery manager, at that time, worked on a proposal and received approval to fund and construct a photovoltaic system that would reduce the cost of the energy used in the Fish Hatchery Tank house and the Maintenance Shop buildings.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

The funding for this project came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) – Hatchery Maintenance program. Hatchery Maintenance funding is available for hatcheries owned by federally recognized tribes, which Mescalero Tribal Fish Hatchery applies for each year.

What benefits have you realized?

In late spring, summer and early fall of 2015, the mounted array system was constructed. The system began operation in January 2016. 

Prior to the installation, our monthly electricity bill for the tank house and the shop ranged between $250 and $300. After a month, we were able to see a significant reduction in our bill: we were even seeing credits on our bill ranging from $3 to $32. According to Otero Electric Coop, we are gaining more power than we are losing. Our electric bill is set up so that we are selling our energy back to the utility company.

The benefits from a solar array project can go a long way. We are not only enjoying the economic benefits, but we are reducing the hatchery’s carbon footprint.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

With limited funding coming into the hatchery, the staff here understands the importance of keeping the system operational so it continues to do its intended function. We check the inverters to make sure they stay up and running. We are also looking to replace 3-4 street lamps throughout the hatchery grounds with solar lighting.

It is important to keep the solar panels away from anything that could block direct sunlight. The hatchery continually prunes an elm tree and other vegetation overgrowth to ensure the full benefits from the operating solar panel system. Part of our plans to erect the solar panel system involved setting up an electric pole, line and meter. It was not until after the pole and electric line were set up and then torn down by a delivery truck that we realized the electric line was hanging too low.

It is important to account for all measures of the project to maintain the connection between solar panels, inverters, electric lines and meters. Another challenge was the weather. Beginning the work for this project at a time of monsoons had its drawbacks. Because this was an outdoors project, work was paused during the rain. In the fall at the completion of the project, we were dealing with light snows and wind chills. 

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Our advice for other communities wanting to establish a similar solar array project is to make sure you do your research. Get qualified, professional electricians and panel installers.  Plan accordingly as far as weather is concerned.  Spring to mid-summer is an ideal time to set up the system.  Have additional staff and volunteers. The extra hands really helped, and we gained valuable knowledge along the way.

Always be aware of the area you or contractors are working in. “Safety first” is so important.  

Santa Fe Community CollegeSanta Fe Community College – Schools

Santa Fe Community College on implementing a sustainability plan and installing solar.

Santa Fe Community College was among the first campuses in the nation to adopt a sustainability plan and now has approximately 1.7 MW of solar energy powering the main campus and the Higher Education Center campus.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

Two general obligation bonds voted for by the Santa Fe community supported the funding of the projects.  The main campus, 6401 Richards Ave. in Santa Fe, has two photovoltaic systems:

  • A 1.5-MW system on 5.4 acres on the southeast side of the campus, south of the main access road, near Kids Campus. This array consists of 4,620 SunPower 327-Watt photovoltaic modules mounted on fixed racking.  The system generates approximately 43 percent of the college’s electricity demands.
  •  A 11.8-kilowatt demonstration array designed for teaching purposes, consists of three different types of tracking systems, uses 36 SunPower 327-Watt photovoltaic modules. The demonstration array is on the north side of the main access road near the Trades and Advanced Technology Center.

The systems provide sophisticated data monitoring reporting that allow students, faculty, and staff to maintain and study the arrays.

The installation at the Higher Education Center, 1950 Siringo Road in Santa Fe boasts two solar photovoltaic mounting systems:

  • A roof mounted 141-kilowatt system that consists of 432 SunPower 327 Watt photovoltaic modules
  • A 16-kilowatt carport array
  • These systems have data monitoring accessible to the public online
  • These arrays generate about 70 percent of the electricity needs of the building

What benefits have you realized?

Two solar arrays (installed in 2014 on the college’s main campus) and the solar installations at the Higher Education Center (installed in 2015) have saved the college money.  Those savings have enabled SFCC to strengthen our services to students and to keep educational costs low.  The college saw 25 percent savings in energy costs in 2015 and 40 percent savings in 2016.  The solar systems were the primary driver of energy cost savings; however, the college also implemented extensive energy conservation measures as well during those years.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

The college needed to get the support for two general obligation bonds (in 2010 and 2013), which supported the construction of the Health and Science building, the Trades and Advanced Technology Center and the Higher Education Center.  This required educating the public about the importance of installing solar energy, not only for teaching and community demonstration purposes but to also to support future cost savings.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

SFCC has found success through the development of community partnerships. The college has worked closely with residents, business partners, as well as city and county partners to educate the community about the benefits of solar energy. The public needs to be aware of the potential cost-savings for the future. Installation and maintenance of solar systems also offer green jobs that stimulate the economy.  

Anything else?

Schools and higher education institutions across the country are pursuing solar energy to combat shrinking budgets and projected spikes in grid energy. Solar installations protect school budgets against these spikes and offer hands-on learning experiences for students.

City of Las Cruces City of Las Cruces – Local Governments

City of Las Cruces on solar as a fiscally sound investment.

Over the past six years, the City of Las Cruces has invested $5 million in almost 1.2 MW of solar projects at nine different facilities. These renewable energy investments represent almost 7 percent of the City’s energy portfolio, garnering over $300,000 annually in energy savings and renewable energy credits (RECs). City Manager Stuart Ed said, “Clean technologies not only protect and preserve our environment but are also fiscally sound investments.”

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

Initially, the city utilized grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the New Mexico Finance Authority. As solar costs decreased, City administration and the Council recognized that the city could shift the trajectory of increasing energy costs and anticipated capital needs by using Hold Harmless/Gross Receipt Tax money for sustainable energy projects.

What benefits have you realized?

Cities are serving as the leaders in smart and clean energy technologies. These investments not only help industries thrive but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is good for everyone.  Mayor Ken Miyagishima said that, “Renewable energy promotes new technologies and job opportunities as the city demonstrates the viability of alternative energy.”

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

In order for the City to maximize the benefits of renewable energy, we need to have energy efficient facilities. Working with energy service companies is another strategy that helps the City meet its sustainability goals.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Set a goal and incorporate it in your Capital Improvement Budget. This makes renewable energy a clear priority. Many electricity rates still include demand charges. Even with net-zero buildings that produce as much energy as they use, the City still has utility costs. When battery technologies are integrated into systems, we anticipate even bigger savings.

City Of Albuquerque City of Albuquerque – Local Government

City Councilor Pat Davis on financing solar power projects for City of Albuquerque with Clean Renewable Energy Bonds.

As New Mexico’s biggest city, Albuquerque should be leading by example on clean, renewable energy, but when I took office, Albuquerque was producing less than three percent of its energy from renewables. I wanted to change that, so along with Councilor Isaac Benton, I sponsored a resolution calling for 25 percent of our energy to come from solar by 2025.

Along the way, we worked with advocates and experts in many fields to figure out how to make that a reality. Soon we will begin constructing the first phase of making that goal a reality by installing $25 million of solar on over 30 city buildings.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

In order to fund this project, the City of Albuquerque applied for New Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (NCREBS) to secure a lower interest rate on $25 million of New Mexico Energy Savings/Municipal Infrastructure Gross Receipts Tax Revenue Bonds. The energy savings created by the project will cover the bond payments.

In order to come up with a list of possible sites and the associated savings, we utilized the expertise of local solar companies.

I am very grateful for the support of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich who took a personal interest in this project. As a former city councilor, he knows what it means to have a partner in D.C. to help get projects like this done.

What benefits have you realized?

This first phase of this project will replace about ten percent of Albuquerque’s energy use with solar energy. This phase will create nearly 150 local jobs and save the city over $30 million over 30 years. It will also result in the first fully renewable rapid transit system as we use solar to recharge our new electric Albuquerque Rapid Transit buses.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

When we first introduced our resolution to call for 25 percent solar by 2025, some questioned if it was even possible for the City to hit this goal. I took on the challenge and initiated a fiscal impact assessment that showed not only could we do it, but we will save the City millions by doing so.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Transitioning to clean, renewable energy just makes sense for our environment, our economy, our families, and our future. Start now, big or small, and put our local folks to work in good, local jobs, save your municipality money, and stop polluting our skies.

Town Of Silver CityTown Of Silver City – Local Governments

Town of Silver City on utilizing Power Purchase Agreements for its wastewater treatment plant.

Wastewater plants and drinking water systems can account for up to one-third of a municipality’s total energy bill. Treating wastewater and stormwater, as well as pumping drinking water from deep ground-water wells are costs that are invariably passed on to the consumer. Around the time of the inception of the Town of Silver City’s Office of Sustainability in 2009, an opportunity became available to decrease the Town’s wastewater treatment costs significantly through the installation of a photovoltaic array that powers most of the wastewater treatment plant facility.

The Town of Silver City began approaching the idea of sustainability and resiliency in 2007 when the Mayor appointed concerned citizens to form the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement Citizen’s Advisory Committee (the Climate Committee). The resulting Climate Action Plan, presented to the Mayor and the Town Council in January 2009, laid out a pathway to decrease greenhouse gas emissions on a local level.  One of the plan’s key recommendations was realized in 2010 when the Office of Sustainability was formed within Silver City’s Community Development Department. In the fall of 2012, a public/private task force was formed to develop and present a sustainability plan.  After seven months, the task force completed the Town of Silver City Sustainability Plan 2030, Protect, Conserve, Prepare, An Approach to Community Resiliency.

Once the contract was signed in 2013, construction started, and in less than six months the one Megawatt array of photovoltaic panels covering six acres adjacent to the Wastewater Treatment Plant was up and running. Around 5,000 photovoltaic panels make up the array.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

Legislation enacted in 2011 by the State of New Mexico created a unique funding opportunity for municipalities to install money-saving photovoltaic (PV) arrays through what is called a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that requires no money out of pocket from the Town. PPA legislation allows third-party entities to install, own and maintain a solar array located on a host customers property (in this case the “host customer” is the Town of Silver City).  Since private corporations can get the tax benefits that municipalities cannot, they have the ability to install such a system, reap the tax benefits and sell the electrical power to the municipality at a cheaper rate than the local electric utility rate. The Town of Silver City entered into a PPA contract with Affordable Solar, an Albuquerque-based solar provider, where the town buys the power produced from the PV system at a set rate for a 20-year period. 

The Town was able to lock into a solar renewable energy credit at a rate much higher than the current credit by applying early in the process (over time the credits decreased as utility’s renewable energy quota was reached). The savings on the electric bill for the town and its citizens are estimated to be between 2 and 4 million dollars over the 20-year contract.  The solar provider owns, operates and maintains the solar facility. The Town’s only responsibility is to buy the power from Affordable Solar for 20 years.

What benefits have you realized?

Since completion of the solar installation, the Town has saved about $350,000 to date, or about $70,000 annually in electricity costs. In addition, the Town has been recognized as a leader in sustainability and resiliency planning and implementation.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

The PPA legal document took years to negotiate, as it was the first one in the State of New Mexico. Negotiations took place between the Town and solar company and their attorneys as well as the investors in the project, in order to cover all parties in various defaults or problems that could arise. This document has served as an example for others who have successfully negotiated their own PPAs.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

A systematic approach is recommended to accomplish renewable energy projects in a small rural municipality. The Town of Silver City’s plan sets forth recommendations for policy and priority actions to reduce the Town’s vulnerability to impacts from increasing heat, drought and other climate variability, such as larger and more intense wildfires and increased stress on emergency services personnel and equipment from intense weather events.

Tall FoodsTall Foods – Rural

Tall Foods, a rural small business in San Miguel County, on the USDA RD REAP program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant allowed us to achieve our early dream of seeking to be carbon neutral and as close as possible to 100 percent on renewable energy. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was for us to navigate through the grant application because the solar company we worked with was so well versed in the process and did much of the paper pushing for us. We are so happy with our solar energy and the fact that our largest bill this summer has been $21, a cost we can afford as startup farmers.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

We used the REAP grant through USDA as a farming operation. We had to apply twice, but we were awarded the full amount in our second application.

What benefits have you realized?

The ability to brand our business with solar as a component of our environmental stewardship is a great benefit, and we have had extremely affordable bills, or credit to our account, for the energy we are producing.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

Other than paperwork and ensuring we had the startup funds to pay for the solar, we were so happy with the company we worked with and the subsidies received through the REAP program and other tax deductions.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

It is totally worth it, and there are a lot of options when it comes to solar companies doing great work. Go solar! It's a fantastic asset and helps us further our brand and environmental commitments. 

Picuris Pueblo & Northern Pueblo Housing Authority Picuris Pueblo & Northern Pueblo Housing Authority - Tribe

The Northern Pueblo Housing Authority and Picuris Pueblo on solar financing from the U.S. Department of Energy. 

This project was a joint effort between several parties: the U.S. Department of Energy, Picuris Pueblo, the Northern Pueblo Housing Authority, Kit Carson Rural Electric Cooperative and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The one Megawatt solar array will generate enough electricity to generate revenues that the Pueblo will provide a stipend for tribal members to offset their electric costs.  

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

The project utilized a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, a $1.3 million twenty-year loan from Peoples Bank, as well as $61,000 from the BIA.

What benefits have you realized?

The economic benefits are enormous for a small pueblo like Picuris. From the jobs created during construction, to jobs operating and maintaining the project, as well as the revenues that will allow the Pueblo to seek other economic opportunities.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

The challenges were minimal, but included finding a bank to lend to the Pueblo as well as planning for weather in our mountainous terrain.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Start by putting a team together that is knowledgeable, has the right credentials, and makes for great partners. That is a winning equation for success!

City of Gallup City of Gallup - Local Government

Non-profit Gallup Solar on organizing a solar park with the City of Gallup.

Gallup Solar (GS), a non-profit 501(c)3 citizen group, advocated and created the Sustainable Gallup Board to advise the City Council and City Manager. The Mayor made appointments to the board.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

GS held weekly community meetings for eight years with guest speakers, educational sessions, and consultation. Local benefactors and small grants provided the funding for this work.

Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney and the City Council approved a Power Purchase Agreement to construct the facility on approximately 35 acres of city-owned property. The PPA provides power at 4.75 cents per kilowatt-hour over 25 years. The park will consist of almost 29,000 panels that tilt to face the sun over the course of the day.

What benefits have you realized?

On August 31, 2017, there was a formal groundbreaking by city officials at the construction site of the 8 Megawatt Gallup Solar Park, which will generate 10 percent of the city's electric usage. The city will save about $20,000 the first year of operation overpower purchased from our electrical provider, and will save approximately $785,000 by the end of the eighth year of operation. This environmental friendly project will generate enough electricity to power 2,500 homes and offset the production of 3,500,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Ninety local jobs will support construction, each starting at $14/hour and with no experience required. These new solar employment opportunities include: 23 laborers and 2 foremen for steel erection for 1-axis tracker; 31 laborers and 3 foremen for solar panel assembly; 28 laborers and 3 foremen; 1 electrical installation laborer, and a security laborer. Employment for ongoing solar operation includes 2 cleaning laborers, and a security laborer.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

GS went from being largely unknown by elected officials to being honored and thanked at the new solar park groundbreaking.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Get involved in grassroots citizen self-education and advocacy for real-world solutions to environmental issues. 

Rio Rancho Public SchoolsRio Rancho Public Schools

Rio Rancho Public Schools on executing a Power Purchase Agreement for solar.

In 2012-13, Rio Rancho Public Schools (RRPS) was presented the opportunity to partner with Washington Gas Energy Systems, AMSOLAR (now acquired by Washington Gas), and Conergy to install solar systems at its two large comprehensive high school’s Rio Rancho High (current enrollment 2,570) and V. Sue Cleveland High (current enrollment 2,490). The school board approved the project in November 2012, with construction beginning the following summer. The project was dedicated in October 2013. 

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education executed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Washington Gas and PNM (formerly the Public Service Company of New Mexico).  RRPS owns the land on which the array is built, and Washington Gas owns the arrays. AMSOLAR designed the arrays and contracted with Conergy to install them. AMSOLAR then sold the completed arrays back to Washington Gas. While the PPA is complicated, RRPS’s utility bills with this system include payment to Washington Gas at a lower flat rate for approximately 80 percent of the power generated through the array, and to PNM at prevailing rates for the remaining 20 power. Power generated by the arrays in excess of the needs of the schools is returned to the grid and RRPS receives a credit applied against PNM’s bill for the excess power generation.

What benefits have you realized?

RRPS estimates the solar arrays at Rio Rancho and Cleveland High save the district approximately $700,000 per year in utility costs. At the time it was installed, it was estimated that the smaller solar array now located at Rio Rancho Middle School could save the district up to $20,000 annually in utility costs, though that number may have changed since the array was originally installed at a different location. In addition, the presence of the solar arrays provides the schools with an educational resource that can be leveraged by classroom teachers in STEM instruction. 

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

This was one of the first projects of its kind in New Mexico and even in the nation. As a result, there were numerous legal and practical issues to be worked out. Since this project fell outside the normal utility regulatory process in New Mexico, the execution of the PPA broke some new ground in this area. 

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Customarily, as an end-user your community would be approached by a vendor who wants to partner in the project.  Be patient and do your due diligence on cost-benefit analyses, permitting, legal groundwork, etc. Gather appropriate public input, especially from neighbors who might object. You do not want to get the system built and find unanticipated community or legal roadblocks, or that the project is not cost-effective for your situation. One variable that might affect the feasibility of the project is availability of land for construction of the arrays.  If land has to be acquired, or if the arrays need to be built on top of a building or a structure built for the purpose (such as the canopies over parking lots seen in some areas), this could add considerable cost to the project. But if the indicators are positive, a solar system can be a great addition to your facility and community!

Truth or Consequences Brewing CompanyTruth or Consequences Brewing Company – Rural

T or C Brewing Company in Truth or Consequences on the USDA RD REAP program.

We moved to New Mexico from the Pacific Northwest, and so the abundant sunshine here was an obvious, valuable asset to our business. After buying a 4,000 square foot building in downtown Truth or Consequences for the brewery, we began exploring the options for covering the rooftop with solar panels. The individuals from SunPower were friendly experts who advised us and ultimately deployed the array.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

The initial investment was daunting and we spent quite a bit of time navigating the financing options. In the end, we utilized part of a LEDA economic development grant, a USDA renewable energy grant, and the federal solar tax credit to make it all work.

What benefits have you realized?

Our solar installation is estimated to keep 791 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per year, which is huge. It is also great to see the hundreds of dollars of credit on our utility bills.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

We knew there were grants available, but each one was complex and required a lot of time and attention to apply, but we're so glad we did.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

Explore your financing options and go as big as you can! Virtually limitless free energy from the sun is a wonderful asset here in New Mexico. It doesn't matter how you feel about climate change, energy efficiency, the environment, or the oil industry. Installing solar panels in New Mexico is just smart business.

Los Alamos CountyLos Alamos County – Policy Maker

Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities on its goal to become a carbon neutral electric provider by 2040. 

Los Alamos, New Mexico (LAC) is a unique community. One unique aspect of our small, rural town is that while our County has a population of approximately 18,000 people, its municipal-owned Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is a power producer. We supply over 600 gigawatt hours of electricity to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the county per year with owned resources, contracts, and purchases. Approximately 30 percent of our portfolio includes renewable energy generation resources. Twenty-seven megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity comes from the county-owned hydroelectric facilities and a utility-scale solar array located on a decommissioned landfill. The remainder of the portfolio is a coal-fired electric generation. 

Feedback from our customers, the citizens of Los Alamos County, indicates clean energy is important to our community. Various surveys revealed that almost 70 percent of our customers were willing to pay more on their electric bills for renewable energy. Accordingly, on September 18, 2013, the Los Alamos Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the governing authority of the DPU, adopted a broad goal of being a "carbon neutral electric provider by 2040." Adoption of this goal by the BPU was in direct response to its customers, and to migrate away from carbon-producing energy sources.

What tools, resources or financing did you use to establish your project?

On February 17, 2015, the BPU commissioned a citizen board, The Future Energy Resource Committee, to define carbon neutrality, to help frame the discussion about what the goal meant, how to achieve the goal in a systematic, organized, and cost-effective fashion, and to make recommendations that would assist the DPU toward this goal. The committee’s charter was "...to examine and recommend clean energy generation resources, and study and recommend policy toward distributed generation in the County." A report of the FER Committee’s findings and recommendation was issued on July 7, 2015.

In addition to the above, our citizen committee’s report also assessed the county’s carbon footprint, its relationship with LANL and potential load changes. Current and future generation resources, opportunities and risks associated with the regulatory environment were also investigated, as well as an in-depth analysis of distributed generation or rooftop solar. Conclusions of the report proposed a definition for the term carbon neutral and introduced lengthy recommendations that revolved around resources and near-term actions, policies to advance the carbon neutral goal, and rate structures. 

After several meetings, the BPU adopted a definition of carbon neutrality and adopted almost all the recommendations within the FER Committee report. The BPU directed the DPU to develop a schedule to research and review all the adopted recommendations. 

The BPU adopted a definition of carbon neutral as they pursue the goal “to be a carbon neutral electric provider by 2040.” The definition is as follows:

The Department of Public Utilities will be a carbon-neutral electrical energy provider when the electricity distributed to Los Alamos County consumers is generated or purchased from sources that in their normal operation cause no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

1)“Los Alamos County customers” means those customers scheduled in the Los Alamos County Code of Ordinances Section 40-121; this does not include DOE/LANL.

2)“No net release of carbon dioxide” means that purchases or generation of carbon-based electrical energy, necessary when carbon-free supplies are not practically available to supply Los Alamos County consumers, will be fully offset by previous sales of surplus carbon-free electricity to other entities.

What benefits have you realized?

To date, the DPU has developed a schedule and began reviewing the FER Committee recommendations.  While the DPU has issued several reports, one major deliverable is a Value of Solar study designed to encourage, not discourage, customer-generated solar projects, without unfairly shifting costs to other customers. The Value of Solar study calculated the true market value of customer-generated solar power in Los Alamos by looking at the benefits and the costs associated with that power.  It outlined a policy strategy for managing the costs of power flow in and out of the grid.  The recommendation was a “buy all - sell all” approach, such that the market value of solar is paid by the utility to the customer for all power that is generated, and in turn, the customer pays the utility the retail rate for all electricity that is consumed. Lastly, the study outlined concepts for fairly charging all customers for grid infrastructure. 

Another critical deliverable, was the DPU’s development of an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to assist us in meeting our carbon neutral goal by assessing the cost, risk and other factors of future and existing electric generation resources. The IRP recommended a future mix of utility-scale solar backed by utility scale storage.  It also proposed that we should continue our power sharing agreement with LANL, and allow our ownership agreement in the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station to expire in 2022. Another matter to consider is whether we should sell our share in the coal-fired Laramie River Generating Station prior to the agreement expiration date in 2040.

What challenges did you overcome to implement your project?

The primary challenge associated with our carbon neutral goal revolves around balancing the risks and opportunities of investing in secure, but potentially more expensive, baseload generation options such as nuclear, against the potential future cost savings related to technological advances that will address existing wind and solar firming and base load limitations. The BPU is in the process of considering the implications of numerous moving parts and FER recommendations as we work to implement a plan to achieve the carbon neutral goal.

It is worth noting that the LAC IRP largely parallels conclusions from recent IRPs developed by PNM and Farmington - cost-competitive industrial scale generation comes from renewable sources - with the primary difference being the LAC IRP recommends storage to firm the base load, while the other IRPs recommended gas turbine technologies to firm the base load. These differences highlight the risks and opportunities noted above.

What advice would you give neighboring communities who are trying to implement a similar project?

For other communities that are interested in pursuing a similar goal we would recommend a similar strategy that the LAC BPU and DPU have taken. Define your goal, seek citizen input, develop recommendations, systematically investigate those recommendations, utilize the gained information to inform policy guidance and execute the policy.