On State Road 522, just north of the Village of Questa, a solar array is busy capturing more than just sunlight – it's also capturing the imagination of civic and business leaders.
The El Rito North array, which went online in January 2020, consists of 4,700 solar panels, and is part of an ambitious plan to provide all-renewable energy during daylight hours to Taos and its neighboring communities in the not-too-distant future.
"During the daytime, we have enough solar resources to deliver all the energy that our [Questa] members need," said Luís Reyes, Jr., chief executive officer of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative.
Here comes the sun
Solar panels work by converting sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity, and with the help of inverters and transformers, deliver usable power to the grid.
Kit Carson owns and operates solar arrays in Eagle Nest, Questa, Taos and Peñasco, and has plans to build two new arrays -- in Angel Fire and Taos. The new arrays will include lithium batteries, so that the solar energy can be stored and delivered at night.
"I believe the next real challenge in alternative energy is storage," said Malaquias Rael, a business owner in Questa and the Chairman of the Questa Economic Development Fund Board. "It makes energy dependable. Otherwise, you can't transition from fossil fuels."
Rael, Reyes and other civic leaders are working to meet the requirements of the Energy Transition Act, which mandates New Mexico electricity be 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, and sets as a goal 100 percent by 2045.
In its effort to support sustainable businesses, the Village of Questa teamed up with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative to create an industrial park on the north end of town, and began searching for a marquis tenant.
Taos Bakes, makers of energy bars and granola aimed at outdoor-loving customers, would become that tenant.
Launched in 2010 as a tiny operation in an incubating kitchen at the Taos County Economic Development Corporation, Taos Bakes is now a national brand sold by 3,000 retailers nationwide, including Kroger, Whole Foods Market and Albertsons.
"We were approached by a delegation from the Village of Questa that was looking to do something with this economic development spec building," said Kyle Hawari, CEO and co-founder of Taos Bakes.
Hawari, 34, and co-founder Brooks Thostenson, 34, worked with Kit Carson Electric to obtain state funds designed to help small businesses that are focused on economic development and job growth.
"In 2015, we had a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the governor at the time, Gov. Susana Martínez. And we were able to obtain close to half a million dollars for the build-out of the facility," said Hawari.
"Packaged up within that was this idea of the solar powered facility, and that was a big selling point for us," he added.
A brighter future
Reyes said the corporate ethos at Taos Bakes was a perfect fit for the industrial park.
"They're creating a product for outdoors, and it is being done by solar energy," said Reyes. "We're saying, 'it's made locally, you hired locally, plus, you're using renewable energy to do it.' So it's good for the local economy, it's good for the environment, and I think that's more of what we have to do."
The new plant is 10,000 square feet, and Taos Bakes now has 20 employees.
"Right now, we're looking at B Corporation certification, and impact metrics, from an investor's standpoint. We are trying to show year-over-year job growth, the environmental impact of our packaging, and how much of the facility is using solar power," said Hawari.
"Those are all questions that are important to us, important to the consumer," he added.
Reyes said new businesses would be attracted to the clean energy and natural environment of Northern New Mexico, and that he's betting on more job growth.
"To me, it's more than just selling energy," said Reyes "We're offering tools to grow an economy."