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Electric rise in wind, solar

Wind electric generating turbines on the El Cabo Wind Farm near Encino in May 2018. Avangrid Renewables, which operates El Cabo, has broken ground on two new projects in the area that when complete will provide 306 megawatts of wind energy to PNM. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico’s renewable energy development got a significant boost in May.

Developers broke ground on a planned 306 megawatt wind complex in Torrance County known as the La Joya Wind Farm. The Public Regulation Commission approved construction of two new solar projects, including one with backup battery storage, to provide El Paso Electric Company with another 250 MW of renewable electricity. And Kit Carson Electric Cooperative brought a new 3 MW solar installation online in Taos.

La Joya Wind Farm, to be located about 10 miles west of Encino, is actually two separate projects being built by Avangrid Renewables to supply wind generation to Public Service Company of New Mexico.

The first project, La Joya I, will generate 166 MW of electricity that PNM will channel to Facebook’s massive data center in Los Lunas.

Tom Fallgren

La Joya II will provide an additional 140 MW to increase renewable power on PNM’s grid, allowing the utility to meet state mandates this year for the company to derive at least 20% of its generation from renewable resources.

Both projects will come online in late 2020, with La Joya I beginning operations in November, and La Joya II in December, said PNM Vice President of Generation Tom Fallgren.

“They’re different projects with separate connections, but they’re both located in the same area,” Fallgren said. “Construction started in May. Avangrid is building both of them as the developer and operator of the projects.”

A pronghorn antelope walks through the El Cabo Wind Farm near Encino in May 2018.

The wind farms will be located just south of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line on a mix of private and public land. That includes about 35,000 acres of state trust land, providing the State Land Office with more than $41 million in new revenue over the life of the project, said Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.

“There are hundreds of thousands of acres of state trust land prime for renewable energy generation, and this project in partnership with Avangrid Renewables, PNM, and their customers really highlights our potential to become a powerhouse for America’s renewable energy future,” Garcia Richard said in a statement.

Avangrid already operates a 298 MW wind farm on the northern side of the railroad tracks that came online in 2018. That project, which supplies renewable power to Southern California Edison, is spread out over 56,000 acres of private and public land, generating $1.5 million annually to the state in lieu of taxes, and for leases with eight private landowners, amounting to nearly $38 million over the 25-year life of the project.

Garcia Richard created a Renewable Energy Office last year at the State Land Office. It’s currently processing more than 40 applications for new solar and wind energy projects.

Stephanie Garcia Richard

The La Joya Wind Farm will increase the total renewable generation on PNM’s grid to 1.064 MW of electricity. Of the total, 396 MW, or 37%, is for Facebook. The rest is for general consumption by ratepayers.

“The electricity provided to Facebook is not counted toward the state’s renewable portfolio standard,” Fallgren said. “It’s over and above what we need to comply with renewable mandates.”

The company, which serves about 535,000 customers, is now seeking PRC approval for another 350 MW of new solar generation to help replace electricity from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station after PNM abandons the plant in 2022. That would help PNM meet the state’s new Energy Transition Act mandates, which require New Mexico’s three public utilities to convert their grids to 50% renewables by 2030, 80% by 2040, and carbon-free generation by 2045.

Adding the newly requested solar facilities and pulling out of San Juan would elevate the utility’s grid to 34% renewables by 2023, according to PNM.

El Paso Electric Company, which serves about 430,000 customers in southern New Mexico and West Texas, is also adding more renewables to meet state mandates.

The PRC approved two new solar facilities for EPE on May 13. That includes a 100 MW solar plant in Santa Teresa in DoƱa Ana County, and another 100 MW solar array with 50 MW of battery storage in Otero County, both of which will come online in 2022.

The Santa Teresa plant, known as the Hecate project, will provide electricity at $14.99 per megawatt hour, according to EPE. The Otero County facility, known as the Buena Vista project, will cost $20.99 per MWh.

Wind electric generating turbines feed into a substation on the El Cabo Wind Farm. Wind-generated power facilities operated by Avagrid Renewables, along with new planned solar facilities will help boost PNM’s renewable power generation to 34% by 2022.

“Those are record-low prices,” said Stephanie Dzur, attorney for the New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy. “The Hecate project may be the lowest-cost utility-scale solar project to date in the U.S. And the Buena Vista project is also very well priced compared with other combination solar-battery storage facilities.”

On the other end of the state, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos is also steadily converting its grid to primarily solar generation. The cooperative brought a new 3 MW solar array online in Taos on May 14, providing enough electricity to power between 1,500 and 1,600 households, according to Kit Carson.

The new facility, located near the Taos Water Treatment Plant, is the 17th solar array to go live on the cooperative grid, providing a total of nearly 20 MW of solar power.

Luis Reyes Jr.

Kit Carson has set a ground-breaking goal of exclusively using solar energy to meet 100 percent of daytime electric needs for its 29,000 cooperative members by 2022. Within two years, it expects to have 38 MW of solar facilities operating, plus 18 MW of battery storage.

“The construction of solar arrays in our communities has been a great economic development venture while giving our members the choice of renewable energy that our community has wanted for years,” said Kit Carson CEO Luis Reyes Jr. in a statement.

“With every panel installation and every array coming online, we are getting that much closer to our renewable energy goals,” he said.

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