Taos Campus Looks to Sun for Power


State’s largest photovoltaic project a ‘community effort’

By Staci Matlock

The New Mexican

The University of New Mexico campus in Taos is going solar with the largest photovoltaic system in the state.

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, UNM officials and others held a groundbreaking Wednesday afternoon for the 500-kilowatt solar panel system. It is part of a planned 1.1-megawatt photovoltaic ground- mounted system distributed among several sites and all tied into the conventional electric grid. “Kit Carson will act as the battery for when the sun doesn’t shine,” said Luis Reyes, Kit Carson’s chief executive officer.

Of the project’s remaining 600 kilowatts, 150 kilowatts will be installed at Kit Carson Corp. facilities, 100 at KTAO, the Taos solar radio station, and the balance, 350 kilowatts, will be built at Northern New Mexico College’s El Rito Campus. Any excess power generated will be fed back into the grid and available to other customers.

One megawatt can power between 500 and 600 homes a year.

The project requires

7,040 solar panels, each measuring 2 feet by 4 feet, Reyes said. Engineering for the UNM portion will be finished next week, and construction will take about eight weeks, he said. He said the engineering, design and construction contract with California-based American Capital Energy calls for 75 percent of the entire photovoltaic project to be completed by the end of the year and the rest in January.

Kit Carson Electric serves more than 25,000 customers in Colfax, Rio Arriba and Taos counties.

Reyes said the solar project has been a “real community effort.” Kit Carson’s members wanted more renewable energy, but they wanted production close to home, he said. “Buying wind power from Kansas didn’t make sense,” Reyes said. “Solar seemed like the best option.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories helped the cooperative identify the best kind of photovoltaic system.

Kit Carson was the only New Mexico cooperative to apply for and receive a $5 million Clean and Renewable Energy bond issued by the federal Internal Revenue Service. The money helped purchase the solar panels and will pay other construction costs upfront, which will reduce the cost of the solar electricity.

Reyes said Kit Carson customers pay about 11.5 cents per kilowatt- hour of power. But he said that amount will continue going up as the costs of fossil fuels rise. Under the 20-year agreement Kit Carson signed with American Capital Energy, the cost of the solar power will stay at 16 cents to 18 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“We think by 2015 that conventional power will be more expensive than solar,” Reyes said. “We have in essence fixed our costs at 16 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years.”

Kit Carson hopes the project will be a model for how other rural electric cooperatives can switch to renewable energy economically.

As not-for-profits, cooperatives don’t benefit from any solar- tax incentives and must look for other ways to pay upfront costs.

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative is one of 13 member-owned electric cooperatives serving rural New Mexico communities. It receives power from Tri-State Generation and Transmission based in Denver.

Contact Staci Matlock at 470-9843 or [email protected].

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