Schoolchildren, workers, politicians and business leaders gathered in Questa Tuesday (April 19) to celebrate operations commencing at its new solar facility.
The one-megawatt array is located on about 20 acres over the Chevron molybdenum mine's tailings pond. Using "concentrating photovoltaic power" (CPV) technology, it is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world.
"It is really good for us," Questa Mayor Esther García said. "It's good for the community."
The solar facility, built by Chevron Technology Ventures, consists of 173 solar trackers of about 18 by 21 feet each.
The panels track the sun, and Chevron Technology Ventures President Desmond King said the CPV technology has the potential to be twice as efficient as other solar panels. According to information from Chevron Technology Ventures, CPV concentrates solar rays using lenses or mirrors.
King said three layers of solar receptors beneath the "concentrators" capture different wavelengths to further maximize efficiency.
King said about 80 people — many of whom were locals who had been laid off by the mine — helped to build the array. Now that it is in place, he said, besides remote monitoring and occasional cleaning, it should practically run itself.
"Overall it will operate on its own," King said. "Most of the manpower is in the installation."
According to information from Chevron Technology Ventures, because it used multiple companies, the project infused the local economy with about $3 million, while about $2.5 million went to other New Mexico contractors.
The Chevron-owned facility will sell the electricity it generates to the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. Co-op CEO Luís Reyes Jr. said the hope is that it will help stabilize electric rates for Kit Carson customers over time, as the cost to provide solar energy from the array will not change under the co-op's initial five-year contract, which can be renewed for another 15 years after the initial five-year "test" phase.
"As we speak, it's delivering 100 percent of the power to the Village of Questa," Reyes said during Tuesday's event. "We're going to expand it to get as far as San Cristóbal and Cerro."
Reyes said producing enough power for Questa is a "feat in itself," as it includes a high school, clinic and municipal offices as well as residences.
"I think it's a model that other communities could start copying," he said.
He said the co-op is also looking at getting a 1.5- megawatt array built in Amalia this summer. Under its agreement with Tri-State, Kit Carson may only generate as much as 5 percent of its own energy through renewable sources such as the Questa array.
"We're pushing the 5 percent with our commitments," he said.
Including the Questa facility, Reyes said the co-op is at about 3.5 percent. With the addition of the Amalia facility, it would be closer to 4.5 percent. Reyes said the co-op is looking to augment the 5-percent limit with "community solar" projects, such as one being discussed at Taos Charter School, in which members will own the panels and get credits on their bills.
Chevron Mining CEO Mark Premo praised the project for providing opportunities for laid-off workers and for operating "incident and injury-free."
The Wilderness Society's state director, Michael Casaus, said his organization hopes to push for more renewable energy projects on land disturbed by industry, turning them "from a liability into an asset" and helping to preserve more pristine sites from energy development.
"Today is a good start," he said. "We're taking a positive step toward America's clean energy future."