Many New Mexico solar firms are reporting dramatic growth despite the nation’s slow economy.

Affordable Solar

Affordable Solar Group LLC’s commercial and institutional business is growing fast. The company has completed a 1-megawatt array at The Bell Group in Albuquerque, and has 10-megawatts of projects planned.

Alamogordo Environmental Study for Solar Plant

The city of Alamogordo in southern NM will pay nearly $25,000 for an environmental study on 60 acres it wants to sell to PNM for a proposed solar plant. Since the land is near the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration must approve the deal and the agency requires the environmental assessment. Construction on the plant could begin by March.

Cimarron 1 is Generating Power for Northern NM

The Cimarron 1 Solar Plant, a 30-megawatt photovoltaic (PV) power plant in Colfax County, has been completed and is generating electricity for customers in northern NM. The $100 million plant on land owned by media mogul/philanthropist Ted Turner is located between Cimarron and Springer near Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch. It is capable of supplying power to about 9,000 households. Cimarron 1 is expected to be operating at full capacity by summer 2011.

Cimarron I, one of the largest solar plants in the nation, includes 500,000 2 feet by 4 feet First Solar thin-film PV modules, set on 225 acres. The electricity goes to the grid that Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association provides to member cooperatives. Tri-State provides power to 44 electric cooperatives serving 1.4 million customers across Colorado, Nebraska, NM and Wyoming, including Kit Carson Electric Co-op in Taos. Southern Company and Turner Renewable Energy LLC jointly own the plant. The partners are also pursuing renewable energy projects in other areas of the U.S.

Consolidated Solar Technologies

Consolidated Solar Technologies LLC operates at a 5,000-square-foot showroom and warehouse on Interstate 25 near Paseo del Norte in Albuquerque. The company does both commercial and residential work.

CST has been building the two largest commercial solar photovoltaic projects in NM to date. A 1.15-megawatt system at the Albuquerque Academy in the Northeast Heights is one of the largest solar arrays on a secondary school in the U.S. It will supply about 25 percent of the private school’s annual electric consumption. CST is also building a comprehensive 3.2-megawatt system at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque. CST and Mosher Enterprises, Inc., an electrical contracting and engineering firm, are doing the design and installation work. They are working in association with the project contractor, Eaton Corporation of Pennsylvania on the $20 million project, which has been financed by federal stimulus funding through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The system will include about 12,000 rooftop and carport solar panels, as well as a building-integrated array to provide up to 20 percent of the facility’s electric usage. The project is to be completed next month.

Consolidated also installed the 146-kilowatt array at the Albuquerque International Sunport. After receiving a $2.4 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration this year, the company is adding 440 kilowatts to the system. Additionally, CST is installing a 111-kilowatt system on the state’s Toney Anaya building in Santa Fe, and 50-kilowatt systems on six public schools through a state program that is financing solar systems for 12 schools throughout the state.

Direct Power & Water Corporation

Direct Power & Water is a PV component manufacturer and installer. The company’s current projects include a 120-kilowatt system on the state’s Wendell Chino building in

Santa Fe, and a 211-kilowatt installation on a building in Deming owned by Compass Components, Inc., an engineering firm.

Direct Power operates two production shifts each day, making solar PV components at its 30,000 square foot Albuquerque factory. The company’s workforce grew from 100 in 2009 to 165 today, and DPW has reportedly been considering going to a 24/7 production schedule.

National Electric – One of the largest private solar systems in NM

National Electric, an independent distributor of lighting and electrical distribution products for the industrial, commercial, utility and residential markets, is locally owned and operated. The company has locations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

National maintains its inventories in over one million cubic feet of warehouse space. The company’s Albuquerque warehouse features a PV system comprised of 1,138 220-watt PV panels on over 95,000 square feet of roof space. It produces 250 kilowatts, which covers about 86% of National’s demand. Installation took 63 days.

The company has a strong desire to be environmentally conscious and lower their carbon footprint as a corporation. The estimated environmental impact of the warehouse PV system will be the elimination of 454,148 lbs of CO2 pollution per year, which is equivalent to planting 35 acres of trees

National was able to take advantage of federal and state renewable energy tax credits, as well as bonus depreciation and the Renewable Energy Credits (REC) purchase program from PNM. “Investing in solar products today makes sense,” remarked Skip Lenfest, vice president sales and business development. “It allows you to lock in your energy costs. With a 25-year warranty on the solar panels, we expect to have a fixed energy cost for many years to come.”

“Our desire is to use our Solar PV array as a training tool for those who are interested in seeing the benefits of a solar system and for those who are interested in learning how to install and operate systems in the expanding solar energy market,” commented Rocklan Lawrence, National Electric’s CEO/owner.

Nicor Solar in Albuquerque

Albuquerque-based Nicor has announced its newest division, Nicor Solar, which offers a full selection of solar photovoltaic modules. Nicor Solar offers products to assist electrical distributors in their own environmental stewardship goals. The company says it is a firm believer in offering a sufficient means of harnessing nature’s energy in a sustainable manner. Nicor also sells wind turbines.

NRG Energy Building 20-megawatt PV Facility

NRG Energy, Inc., through its wholly-owned subsidiary, NRG Solar, has broken ground on the company’s first generation site in NM, near Santa Teresa, about 10 miles from El Paso, Texas. Power from the Roadrunner Solar Electric Facility, a 20-megawatt PV solar project will be sold to El Paso Electric Co. under a 20-year power purchase agreement. NRG Solar plans to invest as much as $21 million in the project over the next three years.

The Roadrunner facility will be the state’s second-largest photovoltaic facility when completed in 2011. In addition to helping NM diversify its generation portfolio and meet its renewable energy goals, the project will create as many as 240 construction jobs. At full capacity, the site will be able to meet the energy demands of approximately 16,000 NM families.

First Solar Inc. will provide engineering, construction and procurement services for the project using its advanced thin film photovoltaic solar modules. Electricity generated at the facility is projected to avoid annual emissions of 27,000 tons of carbon when compared to traditional fossil-fueled generation, or the equivalent of removing 4,800 cars from the road.

NRG, headquartered in Princeton, NJ, currently operates the largest PV solar project in California, a 21-MW facility in Blythe. Under a partnership with Eurus Energy America, NRG is building another project in California, the 45-MW Avenal PV solar facility, and is also the lead investor in the Ivanpah Solar Generating Facility, the world’s largest solar thermal project.

The eight California projects that broke ground in California in 2010 will turn 46 square miles of the desert into a futuristic landscape of mirrors, towers and solar dishes. Other projects are awaiting approval.

Xcel Energy, SunEdison – 54MW Solar Project in Eastern NM

Xcel Energy has broken ground on a 54-megawatt photovoltaic solar project to be built and operated by SunEdison. SunEdison is building, financing and maintaining the installation and selling the power back to Xcel under a 20-year contract.

The facility will include solar arrays at five sites in Lea and Eddy counties and is expected to be operational by the end of 2011. The arrays are located near power-distribution centers in order to eliminate transmission problems sometimes associated with new clean-energy projects.

The PV project will generate more than 2 million megawatt-hours over 20 years, enough to supply more than 192,000 average U.S. homes for one year, Xcel said. Southwestern Public Service will pay 10.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for the plant’s output in the first year. The price will increase by 3.3 percent per year over the 20-year contract. About a quarter of SPS’ 400,000 customers live in NM.

Xcel has developed some wind resources and has a few small-scale solar projects in different communities around the southeastern part of the state. But this is the largest solar project the utility has developed in the area. Xcel partnered with SunEdison in Alamosa, Colorado, to a build an 8-megawatt solar installation last year.