Today (July 1) First Solar broke ground on the 50 megawatt Macho Springs Solar Project, which will be the state’s largest PV plant when completed in 2014. The project is being built on state land trust land.
First Solar and other companies are building much larger projects in California, Nevada and Arizona (most of which will feed California’s energy needs), like the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch, but this is largest for New Mexico and may be the largest on state trust land.
The State Land Office is leasing the 500 acres of land near Deming, N.M., and will collect revenue on the solar project. “It benefits the local and regional economy include millions of dollars in direct and indirect economic benefits, and about 300 temporary construction jobs, while at the same time earning money for our public schools, universities, special schools, and hospitals,” said New Mexico State Land Commissioner Ray Powell.
The project is under a 20-year power purchase agreement with El Paso Electric, which will use the power to serve its 390,000 customers—over a 10,000 square mile region. “This is a milestone for not only El Paso Electric, but our customers and this region,” said Tom Shockley, El Paso Electric chief executive officer. “We look forward to the continued growth of this technology in a cost effective manner.”
As typical for First Solar and other utility-scale PV project developers, the project will create a flurry of jobs. In this case the 300 construction jobs. Once completed in 2014, however, it will only require three operational and maintenance workers.
New Mexico isn’t the first state to host a PV project for a utility on state trust land. Arizona Public Service, Arizona’s largest utility is building a 35 megawatt project, at least 17 of which is now online, on state trust land. While that project will also benefit the state’s schools and citizens, in that case the state issued the request for proposal. In the New Mexico project, El Paso Electric issued the RFP.
If the project goes as planned perhaps New Mexico, like Arizona, will consider undertaking more such projects. After all, the state has 13 million acres of land in trust, and the state uses the land to help keep taxes down. “In fiscal year 2012, the trust lands and permanent funds produced a record amount of $650 million in income for the beneficiaries, which saves the average household about $850 a year in taxes,” The land trust said.