Solar Energy Benefits Without Borders

National borders aren’t simply a place to guard. Borders can be a place of cooperation too. The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $381,000 to the General Land Office (GLO) in Texas to provide a solar energy system for a municipal water treatment plant near the border with Mexico, and the project plans required working with towns in each country before the project could move ahead.

The North American Development Bank, which finances water and wastewater projects in the border region of the United States and Mexico, will be tracking the project to determine if similar sustainable energy systems may be practical in other communities. The grant will fund a 60 kW solar power system for the water treatment plant, and the system should provide the plant with power for at least 20 years after the installation. “This demonstration could prove that, taking all factors into account, solar power is a cost effective way to power public infrastructure projects,” Jerry Patterson, who is the Commissioner of the Texas GLO, said. “It could improve water treatment in the border region without the pollution associated with conventional power sources.” A site for the project will be picked by the end of January, and installation will start in the second half of 2005. The EPA has final approval over the site and its design. The GLO has talked to partners from both sides of the border about the project, and the agency will be working with the North American Development Bank to identify the most suitable location. The EPA chose the GLO for the grant because of its expertise in border energy issues. The GLO has been the lead agency for the annual Border Energy Forum since the first was held in 1994. The forum, always held in a Mexican or American border state, brings together energy experts, government officials and business leaders from both nations to discuss the region’s current and future energy needs, and their impact on the environment. Among the major issues discussed are increasing the use of natural gas and renewable energy resources, energy efficiency and using cleaner transportation fuels. According to the EPA, the rapid increase in population and industrialization in border cities has presented serious challenges to existing municipal water systems. The EPA works closely with the North American Development Bank to evaluate environmental needs and to facilitate the construction of environmental infrastructure, such as water and wastewater treatment facilities.