New Mexico Native American tribe building solar farms amid state's renewable transition
- Oct 28, 2019 4:15 pm GMT
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Oct. 26--A New Mexico Native American tribe is leading efforts to promote renewable energy across the country on tribal land, with the construction of a 50-megawatt solar farm in the north-central region of the state.
The Jicarilla Apache tribe's solar power project would send electricity from solar panels to Albuquerque via the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), read a study from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).
The project was part of a larger effort to replace power generation lost by the closure of the San Juan Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in the Four Corners region in northwest New Mexico.
The plants closure caused regional power rates to increase, read the study, and the solar project should help alleviate the problem.
The solar farm would be joined by a 20-megawatt battery storage unit, and the project was the first of its kind on tribal land, the study read.
"Jicarilla Solar is seen regionally as a pilot project of sorts--first, to test the marketability of utility-scale solar built on tribal lands in New Mexico, and, second, to position the participants--and ratepayers--to benefit from rapid gains in utility-scale solar technology," read the study.
Power from Jicarilla would be brought to PNM to support a new program, PNM Solar Direct, allowing the company's larger customers -- with an aggregate demand of at least 2.5 megawatts or more -- to buy solar power directly from the utility.
PNM would pay $21.73 per megawatt hour.
Situated in Rio Arriba County, the 500-acres project would be built on land already set aside for business development and unencumbered by grazing rights or other property claims, the report read.
If approved by State regulators, the agreement would last for 15 years, including a reoccurring lease payment made to the Jicarilla Nation.
About half of the power would go directly to the City of Albuquerque under terms yet to agreed upon.
The move came as New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Energy Transition Act, which called for a transition away from non-renewable resources such as coal for power generation and set a requirement that 20 percent of retail power sales in the state be generated by renewables in 2020.
By 2025, the law called for 40 percent renewable, 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.
New Mexico's power generation was required to be 100 percent carbon free by 2045.
The law also created incentives for power companies to switch over to renewables and provided funding to retrain workers at the San Juan Generating Station or provide severance packages for those laid off during the transition.
PNM has worked to close the power plant, which was the source of about 30 percent of the company's power.
PNM is working on several other projects to replace 497 megawatts lost in the plant's closure.
That includes a 300-megawatt solar farm with 40 megawatts of battery storage in McKinley County, along with two storage units of 40 megawatts and 30 megawatts in Bernalillo County and a 280-megawatt, gas-fired power station at the San Juan site near Farmington.
Next to the San Juan site, PNM also hoped to build a 20-megawatt solar field.
"These solar projects tap into rich and underdeveloped regional renewable resources, which include wind, especially toward the parts of New Mexico that adjoin Oklahoma and Texas, where the wind industry is an increasingly important segment of the energy economy," read the IEEFA report.
"They also tap into a trend toward the uptake of utility-scale battery storage, which according to research presented in the San Juan closure docket9 and in line with research published by IEEFA10 and others,11 is an increasingly inexpensive way to add resilience and operational flexibility to the grid."
What other tribes are getting in on solar?
Nevada: The Mopa Band of Paiutes installed a 250 megawatts solar trail in 2017, feeding power directly to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The tribe is also building two more solar farms with 200 megawatts and 300 megawatts of capacity to provide power the NV Energy -- Nevada's biggest energy utility.
The two solar farms were expected to come into service in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
Arizona and Utah: The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority partnered in 2014 with the Salt River Project in Phoenix to build a 55-megawatt solar park that feeds into the regional power grid, which went into service in June 2017.
The Authority also reached a deal with 16 Utah cities, read the report, to buy electricity form a planned 66-megawatt solar farm on tribal land in San Juan County, Utah, which was scheduled to come online in June 2022.
Federal lawmakers look to incentivize renewables
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce legislation Thursday to provide incentives for renewable energy developments on public land.
The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, if passed, would "streamline" the permitting process for such projects and establish policy to share revenue with the local communities that host such facilities, per a news release from Heinrich's office.
It was also intended to reduce impacts on wildlife, and culture resources, while distributing 25 percent of the revenue to the state and 25 percent to the counties.
Fifteen percent of the revenue would go to speeding up the processing of permit applications, and 35 percent would be put into a fund for conservation of fish and wildlife habitat, while increase access to outdoor recreation, the release read.
"The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act modernizes the leasing of federal public lands for development of solar and wind energy," Heinrich said. "This bill also directs revenues from these projects to impacted counties and critical wildlife habitat conservation projects," said Heinrich.
"By streamlining renewable energy development, especially in a state with abundant wind and solar like New Mexico, we can create quality jobs and help make America more energy independent."
Udall said the bill was essential to addressing pollution and climate change by using public lands, and would also benefit New Mexico's economy and its growing renewable energy industries.
"Public lands can and should be part of the solution to the climate crisis," Udall said. "I'm proud to support this legislation, which will encourage the responsible development of renewable energy on public lands -- supporting our economy and benefiting the environment in the process.
"New Mexico has the potential to lead our clean energy economy, and I'll continue to support efforts to create jobs in renewables and other forward-looking sectors."
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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