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[Editor's Note: Because several sessions took place the first and second days of the meeting, this will be a multi-part series of articles.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

To begin the second day of the Interim Legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee in Silver City, Jessica Etcheverry, community projects director for Luna County, presented Marketing a County for Solar Generation: Obstacles and Benefits.

The first project she talked about was the Alta Luna Solar Generation Project. She showed a video created by Tri-State for marketing purposes. She noted that 30 percent of the workers used on the project were veterans.

"The project was one of our most successful, because of the partners we had," Etcheverry said. "It brought good return on investment to the community because of the determination of partners wanting to make an investment in the community. The request for proposal begins by looking along the transmission line. A project like this is not feasible if the community is not along transmission land. This project was smaller in land and will create 25 Megawatts of electricity. It is on 258 acres, with 109,239 solar panels. It is on primarily farmer and rancher land. They make more money taking off the cattle or the crop than the selling of calves or crops. Usually, it is for a 25-year lease. The prices of panels have come down, so these arrays are creating energy at a lower cost."

Tri-State, with a diverse generation portfolio, which includes coal, natural gas, oil, hydropower, solar and wind, will purchase power from the project under the power purchase agreement with project owner D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments.

Luna County took part in the project from the beginning and focused on local sourcing of jobs, catering, transportation, non-profit beneficiaries and other local support services, according to a handout.

Partners included Tri-State, Columbus Electric, D.E. Shaw, TurningPoint Energy, Depcom Power and the county.

"We wrote into the Industrial Revenue Bond that the construction must use locals first," Etcheverry said. "They used more than 160 local laborers and more than $400,000 was spent with local vendors. Depcom donated $101,000 to local non-profits, including Roadrunner Food Bank, See the Change for Deming Public Schools, Transforming Luna County, Healing House of Luna County, Deming Animal Guardians and the Deming Animal Shelter. TurningPoint Energy donated $20,000 for the Solar School House Program that teaches students the benefits of solar energy and even how to make their own solar phone charger."

She said the IRB and payment in lieu of taxes would bring $1.5 million to the community over the next 25 years.

"When the RFPs come out, we will see a jump in calls to the community asking for incentives," Etcheverry said. "Right now El Paso Electric has an RFP out."

Rep. Bill McCamley said in Tucson, they require solar storage as part of an RFP. Tucson has 4.6 Kilowatt hours of storage. "Has that come up for you?"

Etcheverry said it's usually Tri-State or El Paso Electric putting out the RFP. "If they are not looking for storage it is not a part of the RFP."

McCamley said it seems to be the place where things are going.

Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard asked about the Macho Springs Wind and Solar facilities, as well as the Alta Vista one. "Do you have an investor interested?"

"It will be 320 MW," Etcheverry said. "I hope we get it."

Garcia-Richard asked where Alta Vista is located and where the energy is going.

Etcheverry said it is on the road to Hatch. "You see Alta Luna, then the Macho Springs Solar and then the Macho Springs wind facilities. The energy will go to where Tri-State needs it. It may go to Columbus Electric, although it often doesn't go to locals. We have gross receipts tax and property tax. We don't do utilities. The projects bring in money to the community to provide services. We will get property tax on this project. We did PILT on the other three. We gave them PILT for the improvements on the property. There is also one project south of Deming, with no county involvement. It is all PNM owned."

Rep. Ron Griggs said it's like the movies. "You spend money for a time, a lot of workers are working, then just a few. But you will get $1.5 million over 25 years."

Etcheverry said the county made more off the Macho Springs projects, because they were larger. "This one was amazing for what it put back into the community and the amount of services purchased from Luna County."

Griggs said oil and gas made farmers and ranchers good farmers and ranchers. He asked for clarification that it was not the federal PILT.

Etcheverry said it was not the federal PILT, but was decreased tax on the panels that were put in.

Griggs hypothesized that the state could do away with personal property tax, but a state PILT could be there.

Rep. Jason Harper said the project was exciting to him. "The Legislative Finance Committee went to Farmington to the Tri-State Coal Producing site. The air was pristine. They displayed a screen showing the energy creation at Escalante Coal, with 90 MW; Alta Luna with 20 MW, but no wind. A place in Denver controls all the natural gas, coal, solar and wind production. The process was fascinating. When we have the Eureka moment in storage, solar will take off. Batteries only do a little bit of leveling, when natural gas can do it more quickly."

Sen. Mary Kay Papen asked if dust storms impact the projects.

"The new solar panels are amazing," Etcheverry said. "They rotate. These are closer to the ground and can go level or go down to where the wind does not harm them. If one panel cracks, we can replace it. Macho Spring Wind will shut off when the winds gets too high."

She said the life span of these panels is 20 to 25 years. "We want to make the infrastructure last. When we get to 20 or 25 years, we will try to get into a new agreement."

Rep. Linda Trujillo said in Santa Fe, schools are putting solar on their roofs. "Does the no property tax include no school property tax?"

Etcheverry said in the county, the schools are the only other jurisdiction. "The Deming Schools were happy to get the money provided. They will get $500,000 over 15 years."

Rep. Candie Sweetser, co-chair of the committee, said the other co-chair Sen. Michael Padilla had been unable to attend because he was at the Estancia job fair attempting to slow down the impact of the closure of the prison and loss of jobs.

The last article will cover the presentation, Finding Rural/Plata Studio Makers Lab.


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