Solar has bright future in southern New Mexico

LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO - There were noticeable tones of excitement among the Las Crucens who talked about New Mexico's first commercial solar generating plant to be built near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry.

"This is fantastic," said state Sen. Steve Fischmann, D-Las Cruces. "I'm proud of El Paso Electric that they volunteered to be the first utility in New Mexico to use this technology. It's wonderful that they were willing to step forward."

Gov. Bill Richardson; David Stevens, El Paso Electric chief executive officer (CEO); Michael Liebelson, chief development officer for low carbon technologies for NRG Energy Inc.

; and Bill Gross, CEO of eSolar, whose technology will be used at the solar plant, jointly announced plans for the plant, now being called the "New Mexico Suntower" project. Construction is expected to begin early next year on plant, which at full production will be able to generate 92 megawatts of power.

"This cutting-edge facility will turn New Mexico's renewable energy potential into reality, and it will add a green boost to our economy," Richardson said. "This keeps our state on the path toward efficiently utilizing our natural resources and moving us toward a clean energy economy. We are setting an example for the rest of the nation and sending a clear message that New Mexico will play a key role in developing the new energy economy."

The plant is expected to be in operation by the summer of 2011.

Solar thermal power tower technology uses a field of mirrors to concentrate sunlight on receivers placed on top of towers that are about 180 feet tall. Liquid in the receivers is heated and produces super-heated steam, which then turns a turbine that produces electricity, similar to other power plants.

When the Santa Teresa plant is fully operational, there will be 32 mirror fields consisting of approximately 390,000 tracking mirrors focused on 32 power towers.

"What we're highlighting here is but one step in a journey that will require more steps and more renewable projects like this solar plant," Stevens said. "This is the right step at the right time."

Mellow Honek, owner of Sunspot Solar Energy Systems, in Las Cruces, is heartened by the prospects of the burgeoning renewable energy industry.

"I love renewable energy, so I'm real excited El Paso Electric is joining the renewable revolution," Honek said. "It's also my hope that El Paso Electric will support the distribution of solar energy so that customers can have an option to reduce their bills."

Liebelson said New Mexico is one of the best locations in the U.S. for developing solar energy.

"In addition to their obvious encouragement and support for increased renewable power, the state offers precisely the kind of renewable energy incentives and pro-business policies that the solar industry needs to grow rapidly into a major provider of clean energy for our families and our communities," Liebelson said.

Kevin Bixby, executive director of The Southwest Environmental Center, in Las Cruces, is encouraged about what the solar plant will be able to do.

"It sounds like a great project," Bixby said. "This area has the potential to be a real leader in solar technology."

Sen. Tom Udall said, "This announcement is more evidence that New Mexico is a leader in spurring the renewables revolution that will help ensure our nation's energy security and create the jobs of the future here at home. I want to applaud El Paso Electric, eSolar and NRG for making this impressive investment and highlighting the many benefits of implementing a renewable portfolio standard."

Gross said he, too, is excited about the potential benefits that could come from the plant. "This project is a marriage made in heaven — bringing together the right solar resources with the right incentives and business policies, and the right technology," Gross said. "Together with NRG, we are working to usher in the next generation of renewable energy power generation, and we are incredibly excited to accelerate the deployment of solar energy in New Mexico and across the United States."

Rep. Harry Teague, D-N.M., said the plant will make the state a leader in developing future energy technologies.

"Southern New Mexico has a strong tradition of providing the energy that this country runs on," Teague said. "As we begin to develop our renewable energy options, plants like eSolar will help us continue this tradition."


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