New Mexico’s Kit Carson Electric Cooperative wants to install enough solar power to cover all of its customers’ electric needs during summer peak days by 2022. To get there it wants to install dozens of 1-megawatt solar arrays, expanding its solar capacity from 5 megawatts to 35 megawatts within 6 years.
Adding small, 1-megawatt solar arrays to Kit Carson’s clean energy portfolio, instead of large utility-scale solar farms, will allow the current utility infrastructure to absorb piecemeal solar generated power without having to make major updates to their transmission framework. It will also create grid stability in conjunction with battery storage systems where small solar arrays become transfer substations, saving power potentially lost through the transmission.
The proposed plan comes as Kit Carson exits its generating contract with Denver-based wholesale power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which was set to expire in 2040. Under the old contract, Tri-State limited local power generation to 5 percent of the co-op’s load. Kit Carson alleged that this limit restrains the development of clean and locally generated energy. Under the new plan, Kit Carson expects local solar energy production jump to 55 percent, according to current customer needs.
However, as a co-op the utility can’t attract investments like a for-profit company. So to reach its goal the co-op has begun taking bids from outside investors to fund the construction of the 1 megawatt solar arrays. Initial construction is projected to begin in June or July 2017 and expected to come online but the end of that year.
New Mexico, is one of the sunniest and more rural states in the US and solar power makes sense there. In fact, in 2013 solar projects in New Mexico were already coming into parity or reaching prices competitive with the power supplied by the grid. That’s when Conergy began installing large solar projects there that were a cost effective, clean energy competitor of fossil fuel produced energy without large customer investments.
Still, solar has come under challenges in the state. Utility are seeking to impose higher surcharges on residential, commercial and community solar customers. For instance, in New Mexico Southwestern Public Service Co. proposed rate hikes that would have imposed a 31 percent increase in surcharges for residential customers and up to 48 percent for other groups of customers. However they were struck down by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.Tweet