Construction is now underway on a renewable energy project at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Park that is projected to generate enough solar electricity to power about one-third of the university’s 900-acre Las Cruces campus by this fall.

The project – called Aggie Power – is the result of a new partnership between NMSU and El Paso Electric (EPE) aiming to further mutual goals related to state renewable energy, climate action and micro-grid development.

“NMSU is excited to develop strategic partnerships across our entire system to support a balanced and sustainable energy economy,” NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said. “This partnership with EPE moves us forward in a leadership role and is a perfect example of our ability to balance investments in infrastructure while providing a state-of-the-art living laboratory to complement our educational programs.”

NMSU and EPE outlined the details of the partnership and solar project in a memorandum of understanding signed in 2018. EPE will own, operate, maintain and oversee the development of the three-megawatt solar photovoltaic project on a 29-acre parcel of land on NMSU’s Arrowhead Park between Interstate 10 and Interstate 25. The technology includes single-access tracking solar panels and a one-megawatt battery pack made by Tesla.

“We are always looking for creative partnerships with our customers to provide options for more sustainable solutions that will benefit the region and our environment,” EPE Chief Executive Officer Kelly A. Tomblin said. “We applaud NMSU and are proud to be part of this history-making project. Together, we will bring new meaning to Aggie Power by using cutting-edge technology to capture and harness the power of the sun like never before. With the installation of Aggie Power, NMSU elevates their role as a clean energy leader in the state of New Mexico, further supporting their standing as an educational institution of choice.”

EPE received approval on a special rate contract application related to the project from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission in August 2020 – a requirement that allowed EPE and NMSU to move forward with the project.

Construction on the project began in mid-December, with receipt of the solar panels and battery packs, said Wayne Savage, executive director of Arrowhead Park. After completing testing and commissioning activities, the project will begin supporting a portion of NMSU’s electrical utility load with renewable energy and storage.

“This system will provide power to about one-third of the NMSU campus as well as some of the Arrowhead Park buildings,” Savage said.

Pat Chavez, director of Utilities and Plant Operations, said NMSU has several smaller solar projects throughout the Las Cruces campus, but Aggie Power will be the largest source of green energy once finished. It will be one of three energy sources powering the main campus and give NMSU more flexibility in managing its utility rates and receiving energy, he said.

“The major benefit is that we’ll be able to receive power during the noon-to-early-evening window, usually when the energy demand is at its peak,” Chavez said. “If we can receive solar power at that optimal time, it means Aggie Power will allow NMSU to lower the need for energy during the time in which energy costs are at their highest and rely on less power from conventional natural gas-powered energy.”

The collaboration between NMSU and EPE developed a project that strived to achieve an outcome that was revenue neutral, Chavez said.

“That means we didn’t want to add exorbitant costs,” he said. “But because of our attractive grid-provided utility rate and the implementation costs associated with photovoltaic battery storage, it means there probably wouldn’t be much of a change to our utility bill.”

More significantly, Chavez added, Aggie Power aligns with NMSU’s long-term commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

“This being a non-combustion energy resource really helps us to start working our way toward carbon neutrality,” he said.

In addition to providing NMSU with a source of renewable energy, Aggie Power also will serve as a living laboratory for faculty and students majoring in electrical engineering, providing research and training opportunities. Olga Lavrova, associate professor in the NMSU Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will oversee the educational and research efforts.

“During the first year, the research team will work on optimization of the seamless operation of the solar PV system with the battery system, including demonstration of such features as peak shaving or load shifting,” Lavrova said “During the second and following years, the team will concentrate on more advanced smart inverter features. This will allow demonstration of operation of the PV and storage systems as part of transition to smart grid.”

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