Renewable Energy

N.M. Co-op Dedicates Solar Projects

By Todd H. Cunningham | ECT Staff Writer Published: September 21st, 2012

An electric cooperative in New Mexico has marked the initial operations of two solar power facilities that use differing technologies, and ownership arrangements, to harvest energy from the sun.

Kit Carson Electric Co-op’s Blue Sky Energy solar array makes use of more than 5,000 photovoltaic panels to capture energy from the sun. (Photo Courtesy of KCEC)

Kit Carson Electric Co-op’s Blue Sky Energy solar array makes use of more than 5,000 photovoltaic panels to capture energy from the sun. (Photo Courtesy of KCEC)

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative hosted the Aug. 29 dedication ceremony at the Taos Charter School, site of a 98.7-kilowatt community solar garden, the first in the state. The ceremony also marked the start of operations at the 1.5-megawatt Blue Sky Energy array, located near the Rio Grande Gorge, about five miles north.

Blue Sky Energy, which came on-line Aug. 1, is made up of 5,280 photovoltaic panels and utilizes a tracking array that follows the sun’s path, according to Taos-based Kit Carson EC.  It is projected to produce about 3.3 million kilowatt-hours of energy in its first year.

The significantly smaller Taos Charter School array, with 420 fixed panels expected to produce about 160,000 kWh of energy annually, went into operation Aug. 22. It is noteworthy for opening solar power to community ownership.

The array is owned by the Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado company. Under the community solar model it pioneered, Clean Energy constructs, maintains and warranties the solar gardens, and Kit Carson EC acquires the power they produce.

Consumers can purchase the Taos Charter School array’s 235-watt panels for $845, and the co-op will provide a credit on their monthly bills for the energy produced. Panel owners receive tax credits and electricity discounts as if the panels were installed on their own roof.

Luis Reyes, Kit Carson’s CEO, said about 50 percent of the panels have been sold in the short time they have been available.

The innovative ownership may allow Kit Carson to increase its solar portfolio above the 5-percent limit imposed by the co-op’s G&T, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Reyes asserted that member-owned community solar should not count against this cap, and he indicated that the Westminster, Colo.-based G&T is considering the matter.

“We think our members may want more than 5 percent, and it’s not detrimental to Tri-State,” Reyes said, noting that Kit Carson EC’s solar power production will soon approach the G&T’s 5-percent cap.  He added that the co-op is “taking a breath” on future projects until the matter is resolved.

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