Albuquerque institutions go solar

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By Jeff Potter

Recent projections by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research for population growth in central New Mexico are eye-opening. By the year 2035 there will be another Bernalillo County-size increase in the population along the Rio Grande corridor. These projections lead to concerns such as water availability, infrastructure limitations, and residential and business electricity supply.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) currently serves about 500,000 electricity customers statewide. PNM is one of three subsidiaries of PNM Resources, an investor-owned energy holding company based in Albuquerque. PNM, in its 2011 Electric Integrated Resource plan, projects that electricity demand will increase 15% to 63% by 2030. PNM “expects to meet growing electric demand in the next 20 years with a combination of new natural gas-fired plants (53%), increased energy efficiency (13%) and more renewable energy (34%) — and without the addition of any large, new baseload power plants.”

PNM believes renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are too expensive: “renewable energy under most scenarios modeled by the company is not a low-cost resource.” However, PNM’s view is based wholly on its owning the solar and wind-capture hardware since it is a for-profit company. It must also calculate transmission costs and electricity loss.

Luckily, some New Mexico institutions and businesses are realizing the abundance of solar energy potential on their own property and insulating themselves against PNM’s unstable reliance on fossil fuel-generated electricity.

Albuquerque Academy recently completed a 1-megawatt photovoltaic installation. Many drivers don’t notice the array as it sits out of sight east of the Academy’s tennis courts. The array, which complements the school’s educational mission and sustainability efforts, features 5,100 Schott polycrystalline photovoltaic modules arranged on Unirac stands for optimal solar capture and minimal land disturbance. The array, built by Consolidated Solar Technologies, will provide about 20% of the Academy’s electric usage.

Kroger Foods, owner of Smith’s Food and Drug, recently completed installation of photovoltaic panels at two stores in Albuquerque. The output from these two stores is 320,000 kilowatt hours (kWh.) The solar system on the roof of each Smith’s store consists of 442 panels. Kroger’s reported it has reduced overall energy consumption by 30 percent since 2000 and saved more than 2.2 billion kWh, which equals 1.41 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Hopefully more individuals and businesses will invest their capital in rooftop and large-scale solar and wind projects too, and jettison the fossil-fuel mindset.