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Solar panels energized at local high schools

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A ribbon-cutting Wednesday formally marked completion of two 1,200-kilowatt solar arrays at Rio Rancho and Cleveland high schools.

Each array is ground-mounted and consists of more than 4,000 solar panels. The expected annual output of 4.65 million kilowatt hours will produce about 80 percent of the electricity needed to run the schools, saving the district about $200,000 in electricity costs.

Together, the systems are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 632 cars off the road, according to Michael Fahey, commercial program manager for Washington Gas Energy Systems of Virginia.

At right, foreground from left, RRPS facilities director Al Sena, school board members Carl Harper and Catherine Cullen, and Washington Gas Energy’s Michael Fahey cut the ribbon near the RRHS array, above. (Rio Rancho Observer—MIKE HARTRANFT photo)

At right, foreground from left, RRPS facilities director Al Sena, school board members Carl Harper and Catherine Cullen, and Washington Gas Energy’s Michael Fahey cut the ribbon near the RRHS array, above. (Rio Rancho Observer—MIKE HARTRANFT photo)

“I understand this is the first public school district in the country to embark on a project of this size and magnitude,” he said during remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the array on the north side of Rio Rancho High School.

Washington will own and operate the systems under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Rio Rancho Public Schools. The projects were developed by AMSOLAR and constructed by Conergy.

The school district did not have to put up capital or make an initial investment for the projects, district officials have said. Washington, which paid for construction and installation, own electricity generated by the panels. It will sell the power back to the district at a rate lower than what the district pays to PNM, from which the district will continue to buy needed power beyond what the arrays generate, the officials have said.

The district, at any point, could make an offer to buy the arrays, they have said.

Each project occupies about eight acres. The Cleveland array is on the east of that campus.

“I think what you’re really doing is leading the way on what could happen in Rio Rancho if we start to collectively work on trying to use energy that’s free,” said Mayor Tom Swisstack, on on hand for the ceremony.

RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland added, “We hope this will be a model for additional projects in the district, but also additional projects in the community and the state.”

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