Putting some Macho in solar energy – Las Cruces Sun

June 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

DEMING GT;GT; Under the watchful eyes of jackrabbits, fox and pronghorn antelope, an effort to produce environmentally friendly energy was officially launched last week with a visit by New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell. The Macho Springs Solar Facility, built on 600 acres of state trust land in Luna County, officially opened Wednesday but has been in operation since May.

This is now the largest solar plant in New Mexico and one of two under Southern Power’s purview, with the other being the Cimmaron facility in Raton. The company is constantly reviewing and evaluating upcoming projects, but have none ready to announce at this point, said Jeannice M. W. Hall, a senior media relations strategist with Southern Company.

“We look for the output to be significant and covered by contracts,” she said.

The Macho Springs project is jointly owned by Southern Company subsidiary Southern Power and by Turner Renewable Energy. The plant was built and will be operated by First Solar, with power sold to El Paso Electric — marking a near doubling of its green energy. EPE is required under state law to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2015, and 20 percent by 2020.

Turner Renewable joined the partnership as part of Ted Turner’s ongoing efforts to protect the environment and to create more jobs for New Mexico’s growing renewable energy industry, said Thomas Fanning, president and CEO of Southern Company.

Southern Company, which has facilities in the deep south and throughout the Southwest and California, employs 26,000 people across the United States. With 17 facilities in eight states, their headquarters are in Atlanta, Georgia. Of the seven total solar projects with Southern Power and Turner Renewable Energy, two are in New Mexico.

“In partnership with Turner Renewable Energy, Southern Company has created one of the nation’s largest solar arrays,” Fanning said. “Our strategic solar expansion demonstrates our commitment to the full portfolio of energy resources.”

And, company officials said, the commitment goes beyond renewable energy. To further reduce the impact of the solar field, the company is working in tandem with state officials to ensure the facility is as easy on the surrounding landscape and wildlife as possible. Researchers have visited the site to observe the impact on wildlife and plants, and have seen improvements in the rangeland and wildlife, said Aaron Davis, a field technician who is tasked with maintenance as well as keeping an eye on the land surrounding the facility.

“We’ve found fox, antelope and there’s one jackrabbit that is always following me around,” he said.

Caring for the environment is having a positive impact on the company’s portfolio as well, Fanning said.

According to documents provided by the company Wednesday, operating revenue for Southern Company rose to more than $17 million in 2013. That reflects a 3.3 percent increase from 2012. Also through diversifying to include green energy with its more traditional generation techniques, they have grown generation capacity to more than 183.4 million kilowatt hours in sales during the same period.

For New Mexico, this 50 megawatt solar power project provided about 300 jobs during the construction phase, a boost to the states struggling construction industry, Powell said. And, since it is on state trust land, it will benefit students in the state.

“It will provide a constant stream of revenue for our public schools. This project will provide clean, efficient solar power to El Paso Electric service customers and the lease payments could generate as much as $10 million for our school kids over the 40-year term of the lease.”

Revenue from state trust land goes to support public education in New Mexico.

The Macho Springs project will provide EPE with solar energy for the next 20 years through a purchase agreement that will affect 395,000 customers in both New Mexico and Texas.

Jason Gibbs may be reached at 575-541-5451.

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