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ABQ leaders announce $25M solar panel project

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City Councilor Pat Davis announces the first phase of a solar energy project that will install solar panels at 12 city-owned buildings during a news conference with Mayor Tim Keller on Monday at the Alamosa Community Center, one of the sites slated for solar panel installation. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque city officials on Monday announced the start of a $25 million project that includes solar panel installation at 12 city-owned buildings, part of an effort to generate 25 percent of energy consumed by municipal buildings using the renewable resource by 2025.

Alamosa Community Center, on the city’s southwest side, will be the first city building to see solar panels installed as part of the initial stage of the project. The first phase represents a $5.2 million investment.

In addition to Alamosa, local crews from Akal Global, PPC Solar, Rio Grande Renewables and Sol Luna Solar also are slated to install panels at seven city fire stations, Ladera Golf Course, the main Albuquerque Public Library and the Albuquerque Police Academy and Forensics Lab.

During a news conference at the Alamosa center under a cloudless sky and bright sun, Mayor Tim Keller said he intends to accelerate implementation of the project, as only 3 percent of city buildings use renewable energy.

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Johnny Chandler of the city’s Department of Municipal Development sets up aerial site photos of the first phase of a solar energy project that includes solar panel installation at 12 city-owned buildings before a Monday news conference. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“What we’ve been able to do in our administration is move as fast as we can toward (the 25 percent) goal,” Keller said. “We’ve got a long ways to go, but we’re going to catch up fast. That’s why it’s been my priority to accelerate this.”

Ultimately, Keller said he would like to reduce the city’s electric bill to zero.

The city has secured $24.8 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, part of a federal program designed to finance renewable energy projects. The bonds come with virtually no interest and will pay themselves off within 20 years in energy cost savings.

City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton sponsored legislation in 2016 that established the 25 percent goal. Davis said during the news conference that the project is also about jobs.

“We just didn’t want to copy what other cities have done,” Davis said. “We really wanted to be sure that if Albuquerque was going to be the next big municipal solar leader, that we did it in a way that didn’t just put solar panels on city buildings, but create a solar workforce that allows New Mexicans to stay in New Mexico for green jobs.”

The first phase, Davis said, will offset the equivalent of more than 31 million pounds of coal that the city’s electricity demand would require over the next decade.

The projects are expected to be completed in September, and installation at the main library will start in November and be completed sometime in February.

Sanders Moore, director of Environment New Mexico, cited a recent report by the Frontier Group and the Environment America Research and Policy Center stating that Albuquerque generates the 11th-most solar power of all major cities in the country. That places Albuquerque in a position to lead as a solar city, she said.

“It’s notable that Albuquerque is going solar by putting solar panels on or near libraries, fire stations and community centers in this first phase of the solar energy program,” Moore said. “In doing so, Albuquerque can be a leader and is a leader on the necessary transition to power New Mexico with clean renewable energy, which also benefits our public health and environment.”

The proposed second phase would represent an investment of more than $20 million of solar panels installed at 17 city buildings.

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