Solar tower plant planned

DEMING, NEW MEXICO Officials have announced New Mexico's first large-scale solar thermal power plant, a southern New Mexico operation capable of generating enough electricity to serve about 45,000 homes.

The plant, which uses mirrors to collect and focus sunlight to generate electricity, would be built near Deming to supply electricity to customers of El Paso Electric, according to documents filed with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

Meanwhile, Albuquerque-based PNM is reconsidering plans for a similar plant, a company official said.

Officials with the companies involved in the southern New Mexico project El Paso Electric, California renewable energy startup eSolar and power wholesaler NRG would not talk about project details.

The eSolar plant will use a "power tower," an approach to generating electricity from the sun pioneered at Sandia National Laboratories in the 1970s.

This "very important" project would generate enough electricity to serve about 45,000 homes, according to Jason Marks, a member of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

"Solar energy has the potential to be a very significant portion of our energy supply in the Southwest in the future," Marks told the Journal.

The plant will meet El Paso Electric's requirement under New Mexico law to provide a portion of its electricity from renewable sources.

PNM, the state's largest utility, is still trying to find the best way to meet its renewable energy requirements, according to Greg Nelson, who heads the utility's renewable energy efforts.

Last year, PNM joined with four other regional utilities in asking for proposals from vendors to build a solar plant that uses mirrors to collect the sun's energy and generate heat to drive a turbine.

PNM's partners pulled out of the deal, and it is unclear that a scaled back version of the plant would be economically feasible, Nelson said.

PNM is now considering photovoltaic panels, which turn sunlight into electricity, to meet renewable energy requirements, he said. PNM needs to decide by the end of June to meet PRC filing requirements.

Albuquerque Journal

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