Why Hasn’t Solar Caught On In Eastern New Mexico?

E%20N%20M Why Hasnt Solar Caught On In Eastern New Mexico?

While New Mexico seems to be a hot bed for solar energy development, it’s just now catching on in the eastern part of the state.

When Xcel Energy broke ground on its 54-megawatt solar project spread around to power distribution centers in five different towns earlierthis week, it made its first real investment in the technology in thatarea.

The solar project in Lea and Eddy counties helped the utility company reach New Mexico’s renewable energy diversity requirement for 2011, Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves said.

While Xcel has invested richly in wind generation projects along thesoutheastern border of the state, the 54-megawatt project in Lea andEddy counties is only the company’s fourth solar endeavor in the state.

“The others are all smaller community demonstration types ofprojects,” Reeves said. “They’re in areas where people in the communitycan come and interact with them. But I don’t think any are above 100kilowatts.”

One such project is a major exhibition piece in Roswell, N.M.

The Community Demonstration Solar Site features six different solarphotovoltaic technologies, including rooftop, lollipop array, singleaxis array, and dual axis array. The panels cover 22,000 square feetalong a walking path near the Eastern New Mexico University campus. Thepath features information stations explaining the different technologies and how they work along with output meters where students and visitorscan see how much energy the panels are producing.

The exhibition project was just installed at the end of September and only produces 35 kilowatts of power, according to the utility’swebsite.

The marked lack of utility-scale solar development in Eastern New Mexico seems strange when juxtaposed withall the clamor across the country about New Mexico’s sunny potential as a major renewable power generator.

But it makes sense when it’s in context, Reeves said. One of thetoughest challenges Xcel has is finding ways to transmit solar powergenerated in eastern New Mexico. That’s one reason the utilityestablished its new solar project at five existing power distributioncenters, Reeves said.

“There’s a lot of potential in the southwest power pool” Reeves said. “We’re just working to connect us with the eastern cities. Transmission is critical.”

Aside from transmission issues, which have become more and morecontroversial as private property owners fight the installation of newlines on their lands, the part of New Mexico where Xcel operates hasshown more potential for other renewable developments like wind, Reevessaid.

“The solar resources are really good all over the state,” Reevessaid. “We just serve the eastern side of the state though, where it’snot as obvious.”