New Mexico Identifies Solar Energy Sites

Sunlight is a ready commodity in New Mexico, but that doesn’t make choosing a site for a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant any simpler. Governor Bill Richardson commissioned a Solar Power Task Force in April of this year specifically to look at available locations for a CSP plant, and the first five potential sites have been identified.

CSP plants offer an alternative to fossil fuel power plants, particularly in the sunny desert southwest. Many power plants today use fossil fuels as a heat source to boil water, which produces enough steam to operate a generator for electricity production. However, a new generation of power plants with concentrating solar power systems uses the sun as a heat source. There are three main types of concentrating solar power systems: parabolic-trough, dish/engine, and power tower (for more information on each approach, see the link below). Engineering and consulting firm Black and Veatch was selected by the task force to work with the energy information company Platts on identifying specific project sites in New Mexico that could support a 50 MW or more CSP plant. The companies started with information from a siting study completed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and a Geographic Information System study. Available lands in Deming, Lordsburg and Belen hold the most promise for a variety of reasons. According to a feasibility study that Black and Veatch presented to the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources of New Mexico (EMNRD), these locations have access to water, transmission lines, utility infrastructure, and the sites are currently not limited for development because of environmental considerations. The location available in the town of Deming is actually an unfinished 570 MW combined cycle power plant that is owned by Duke Energy, and is currently up for sale. A substation is located there as well, which means there is already and infrastructure for power transmission. A CSP plant wouldn’t be complete without some education components, and because the location is close to I-10 Black and Veatch believes there is room for a visitor’s center. In the town of Lordsburg there are two plots of land available for development along highway 113 and they have many of the same attributes as the Deming property, according to the feasibility study. Land in the town of Belen off of I-25 is available, but there are some drawbacks to the two locations there. There is a strip of land near the Belen substation that could certainly support a development. Unfortunately, the Alexander Municipal Airport is close by and there is a chance that the mirrors used with a CSP system could be a distraction to pilots. Water isn’t readily available at either of the locations either, and that’s a necessary infrastructure component for any development. Locating potential development sites is only the first half of the process for the Solar Power Task Force. By the end of the year Black and Veatch will have a complete report on which of the five sites would be the most compatible for a CSP development. SunLab, a research partnership between Sandia National Labs and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will take the Black and Veatch feasibility study to conduct an in-depth site analysis on the five locations. Funding for the task force and feasibility study comes from a five-year cost-share agreement reached by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE recently announced a $90,000 contribution toward the cost-share agreement, and the total estimated cost of the multi-state project is $1,860,000, which includes the $90,000 contribution. WGA and the involved states will provide a cost share in the amount of $61,690 in the first year. It is anticipated that WGA will provide additional cost share in years 2-5 of the project.
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