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ABQ companies chosen to build power plant for Facebook

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Affordable Solar president Kevin Bassalleck talks about the full-time positions his company will create as Gov. Susana Martinez listens during a news conference in Albuquerque on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two of New Mexico’s largest homegrown solar companies will help Facebook harness the state’s blazing sunshine to power its forthcoming data center in Los Lunas under a new $37 million contract with PNM Resources, the parent firm of Public Service Co. of New Mexico.

Affordable Solar, an Albuquerque-based installation and wholesale company, won the contract to build three massive photovoltaic arrays to generate up to 30 megawatts of power for the Facebook facility. Array Technologies, an Albuquerque manufacturing firm that builds solar tracking systems, will also supply the equipment needed to tilt and turn the solar panels as they follow the sun, increasing electric output from the PV arrays.

Gov. Susana Martinez announced the deal on Wednesday, accompanied by local and state officials and executives from PNM Resources and the two solar firms.

“The Facebook data center will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy from these three solar farms,” Martinez said. “I’m excited, because these are New Mexico companies that are benefiting, and they’re based right here in Albuquerque.”

PNM Resources will invest a total of $45 million in the three solar plants through a contract with Facebook that commits the company to supply all of the data center’s power with renewable energy. The solar arrays will provide electricity for the first phase of Facebook’s project in Los Lunas, where the social media giant plans to invest up to $1.5 billion in a six-phase complex to be built over several years.

Facebook is investing $250 million in the first phase, which broke ground last October. That first facility will open in 2018.

PNM Resources’ $45 million commitment to the three solar plants, each with a 10-mw generating capacity, brings total investment in this first phase to $295 million. Facebook could pay PNM Resources up to $31 million a year for electricity, including alternative sources when the solar plants produce less power than needed.

The state Public Regulation Commission approved the agreement last year under a new green energy tariff that allows PNM’s parent company to negotiate special rates with large-scale consumers who want to power their facilities with renewable resources. The Facebook contract will be managed by the subsidiary PNMR-Development.

“This is a unique kind of project for PNM,” PNM Resources chair, president and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn said Wednesday. “We’ve created a plan to serve 100 percent renewable energy to Facebook, with 24/7 energy backup systems … It could be a model for other similar projects in the future.”

Between 50 and 100 construction jobs will be created for each of the solar plants, potentially employing up to 300 people. The first array will come online in January, and all three by May 2018.

The contract also means 40 new full-time jobs at Affordable Solar, which now employs 117, said company president Kevin Bassalleck.

“This will allow us to open our doors to a new group of solar employees,” Bassalleck said. “We’re hiring a lot.”