New Mexico Solar Industry Shadow Of What It Could Be

Jun 23, 2014

The Macho Springs Solar Facility near Deming is the New Mexico's largest solar plant.
Credit Simon Thompson

The Macho Springs Solar Facility spans 300 football fields and generates as much as 669 kilowatt hours of electricity per month enough to power as many 18,000 homes.

State land commissioner Ray Powell helped broker the public private partnership needed to get the solar plant built on state land.  He says solar power’s potential in New Mexico is without limit.

“There are plenty of private lands and other lands that are appropriate too.  We are just making sure that we are proving to people that it is worth doing. This is the future is the future for our planet and we can lead the effort here in New Mexico” he says.

But some are asking what took so long?  While some have ranked New Mexico’s potential for solar energy as high as second in the nation– the Solar Foundation rates the state 22nd for solar jobs.

Las Cruces Green Chamber Director Carrie Hamblen says the chamber pushed for initiatives and incentives to nurture the solar industry in the legislative session but they didn’t get any of the results they were hoping for.

“We are looking at this opportunity of acquiring clean energy from the sun  that is free and we are using these  different arguments to prevent that– I don’t see that   that is really the best way to go about doing this when we are looking at this opportunity  of having a free resource to provide energy” he says.

Hamblen says New Mexico regulators stunted the solar industry and potential growth, when they modified utilities’ clean energy requirements in late 2013.

"If we are reducing the incentives  for utility companies  too continue to supply solar energy to the way that they operate – then I don’t think that it is really the best  way to go about supporting the industry as a whole for our state- also supporting jobs  so we really do need to have more incentives in place to make this a viable industry in New Mexico" he says

El Paso Electric has a 20 year contract to receive all the solar power generated at the Macho Springs Solar Facility to distribute to its customers in southeast New Mexico. Spokesperson Marybeth Stevens says the use of solar and other renewable are higher than current and even past levels required by New Mexico energy regulations.

“This project was done on a cost effective bidding basis with other fuel sources it was not done to meet a state requirement and it was done because it is a cost effective energy resource” he says

Land Commissioner Powell says Macho Springs is an example of how technological developments in solar and increasingly inexpensive infrastructure and solar generation have made state directed renewable quotas for utilities unnecessary.

“It is competitive, subsidies are very important to nurture and bring the industry alive but now it is looking like it is going to take off on it’s own” he says

With Macho Springs and an additional facility in El Paso on track to be operating by the end of 2014, solar will soon account for 6% of El Paso Electric’s generation resources.

Hamblen says without sturdier state directives other utilities won’t be as compelled to expand renewable generation.

“We do have the potential for wind and we do have the potential for geo thermal energy however solar is the most accessible and easiest to go ahead and put up at this moment” he says

Hamblen is concerned the bigger economic opportunity is not being fully recognized.

“We have the potential  to transport energy elsewhere and if we can generate that  energy here in a state that has 350 days a year of sunshine ­we are missing out  on an opportunity not only to create an industry  here and bring money in to our  community  but also address  needs  of other areas in  the country” he says

Though all the energy generated Macho Spring Solar Facility will stay in New Mexico Powell says solar plants on state lands are already sending energy to other states like California. He says he is in talks to build more power lines but that takes time collaboration and planning.