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New Mexico’s Solar Industry
Job Growth from the Sky
New Mexico has 76 solar companies and had 2,929 solar jobs in 2016, a 54 percent increase from 2015, according to a report from the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based Solar Foundation. About a fifth of those jobs are in manufacturing. Others are in installing, sales, project development, training, research and development. New Mexico ranked No. 8 in the country for solar jobs per capita. Most are in Bernalillo County.
The foundation’s jobs census says that one of every 50 new jobs in the country was in the solar industry, which added more jobs than oil, natural gas and coal combined. Solar Foundation Executive Director Andrea Luecke said in a statement: “In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations.” Luecke also said that there is a serious shortage of skilled workers.
Facebook Data Center
To meet the renewable energy requirements of the massive Facebook data center being built in Los Lunas, the highest-grossing solar company in the state, Albuquerque-based Affordable Solar, is building three solar farms at a cost of $45 million. Another Albuquerque-based company, Array Technologies, which has dominated the U.S. solar tracker market and has about 180 employees in the city, will provide the data center’s solar tracking equipment. Public Service Co. of New Mexico will provide the energy for the center. PNM Resources is financing the half-million-square-foot project for Facebook. The project will create 300 jobs, including many for local companies. Affordable Solar will hire 40 additional employees. The first solar farm of the six-phase complex is to be completed by January 2018. It is unknown how much local companies will benefit from the data center’s presence once construction is over.
SolAero Technologies Corp.
Last month SolAero Technologies Corp. announced a $10-million, 40,000-square-foot expansion to its Sandia Science and Technology Park headquarters, where the company employs about 250 people. More than 100 new jobs in Albuquerque will be created. SolAero’s solar panels will soon be powering defense and commercial drones and hundreds of Airbus OneWeb low earth orbit satellites, which will provide high-speed Internet access to underserved communities around the globe. SolAero was recently awarded a grant of $182,000 from the state Economic Development Department under its Job Training Incentive Program to support 25 jobs.
mPower Technology Inc.
An Albuquerque startup, mPower Technology Inc., has invested about $1 million to develop Dragon SCALEs, lightweight, flexible sheets using micro-engineered photovoltaic technology developed by Sandia Labs. “Solar glitter,” tiny low-cost solar cells, could soon power a wide range of consumer devices, satellites and, eventually, buildings. The company, which has a commercial license agreement with Sandia Labs, is ready to market the technology.
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative
and Guzman RE Partners Launch
Long-Term Solar Partnership
Formed in 1944, Kit Carson Electric (www.kitcarson.com) is the second largest cooperative in the state. It is one of 12 electric cooperatives that serve rural New Mexico communities. Its territory includes Taos, Colfax and Río Arriba counties. Guzman Energy Group (www.guzmanenergy.com) is “a specialty energy company that finances, trades and operates energy assets across North America.” The Florida-based firm has an office in Denver, Colo.
With Guzman’s help, last summer Kit Carson bought out its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which had limited local power generation to 5 percent of the co-op’s load. Kit Carson and Guzman Renewable Energy Partners (GREP) have since announced that, in addition to serving as wholesale energy supplier, GREP has become Kit Carson’s exclusive solar energy partner. Their goal is to enable the co-op’s customers meet all of their summer power needs from solar by 2022. With the support of outside investors, they intend to do this by installing up to 30 megawatts of renewable capacity, using 1-megawatt solar arrays and battery storage.
The initiative would make the cooperative one of the greenest in the country, not to mention saving its 30,000 members more than $50 million over the next 10 years, according to a press release. “This plan will also allow our community to be much more competitive in attracting businesses and jobs,” says Luís Reyes, Kit Carson’s CEO. Guzman’s managing director, Jeffrey Heit, said, “What better way to demonstrate that we are a new kind of energy partner and demonstrate our commitment to the community and more broadly, New Mexico, than by working with Kit Carson to support their renewable energy goals?” Guzman also provides power to the Jicarilla Apache Nation and built a 1-megawatt solar farm for the city of Aztec, N.M. The project generates about 8 percent of the city’s electricity.
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