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West Mesa targeted for large solar projects

The West Mesa area targeted for solar development south of Interstate 40. (Courtesy of eagleseyephoto.com)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque's far West Mesa could become a new Mecca for solar energy development.

The company pursuing the massive Santolina master-planned community, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC, is now negotiating with solar developers to build up to 800 MW of new, utility-scale solar-generating facilities there. Three companies have already signed site-control agreements to temporarily reserve rights while they design project proposals, including two that want to build solar plants and one that wants to pursue backup battery storage, said Jeff Garrett, president of Garrett Development Corp., the asset manager for Western Albuquerque Land Holdings.

“Our team built a map and started chasing developers down, and then the herd started running this way,” Garrett told the Journal. “Nearly a dozen submitted letters of intent to work on projects.”

If the targeted 800 MW are built out, it would represent a $1 billion investment in at least four different power plants to supply renewable energy to utilities, possibly including Public Service Co. of New Mexico, and potentially to industrial users operating either on the north and south sides of I-40 or in other states. The plants would interconnect with the Pajarito substation PNM is now building on the southeast corner of the land earmarked for Santolina.

Once built, Pajarito would be connected to the new Western Spirit Transmission project, a high-voltage, 150-mile line that, once finished, PNM will acquire from energy company Pattern Development to transport renewable electricity from wind farms in central New Mexico to western markets.

Proximity to that power line and interconnection with the Pajarito substation would substantially reduce costs for solar developers, which, in turn, would lower prices for end users, making power purchase agreements more appealing, Garrett said.

The city, county and state could benefit from new revenue generated on land that today is generally used for grazing and taxed at the Greenbelt Grazing rate of just $3.66 per acre. Solar development on the West Mesa could also help the state meet renewable and carbon-free mandates under the Energy Transition Act if local utilities like PNM opt to purchase electricity, Garrett said.

Western Albuquerque Land Holdings currently owns about 28,000 acres on the West Mesa, about half of which is slated for the Santolina development south of I-40, and the other half north of the highway where companies like Shamrock Foods, Tempur-Pedic and FedEx already operate and where Amazon is now building a massive fulfillment center.

The solar projects would be built on 6,200 acres on the west side of those land areas, said Garrett Development Vice President Richard Starr. It would be built in two phases, with about $500 million invested in the first stage on 3,200 acres.

The land owners expect to sign 25-year land leases with the solar developers, who hope to bring the first projects online by 2023.

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