The Española School District Board heard at its March 18 meeting a presentation by Vince Campion, of Clear Energy Solar New Mexico. The company is proposing installing solar systems on District buildings.
Campion’s company is a real estate development company that contracts with solar companies and roofers to install solar on properties. The company has facilitated solar installations around New Mexico including Santa Rosa Hospital and the prison in Otero County. They are also contracted to install a system at the Chama wastewater facility.
Campion introduced Francis McPartlon, who owns Santa Fe Stucco and Roofing.
“He’s one of largest roofing contractors in Northern New Mexico,” Campion said.
McPartlon said his company teams with Somos Solar to produce large-scale projects such as the one proposed to the District.
The plan presented by Campion to the District states there is no capital investment on the District’s part, no debt, no performance risk and no maintenance.
“These solar panels have a life of 25, really 30 years,” he said. “If anything breaks or there’s a problem, we take care of it. We insure the system and maintain it.
Campion glossed over the cost savings of the project and Board members asked no questions.
He said large investors put up equity and receive direct tax credit.
“Otero County put up $1.2 million in equity and received $1.3 million in direct tax credits,” Campion said.
The slide he presented to the Board said the District currently pays 6.9 cents per kilowatt hour and under the solar system the District would pay about 7.9 cents. The savings which brings the 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour down is in the off-peak use of electricity savings.
Leo Valdez serves as the District’s finance advisor. He’s working on a similar project for Rio Arriba County.
“At this point I don’t think there’s enough information to make a decision,” he said March 19. “They need to do an analysis of all the buildings, and then we can decide if we want to put up these arrays.”
Over time the base rate would be supplemented with the tax credit. School districts don’t pay taxes so can’t take tax credits. So the federal credit the District would receive would be bought at a discount by the investor. The difference would go toward the cost of electricity being purchased by the District from the investor who owns the solar array.
“Really, he (Campion) has to show me the economics of this,” Valdez said. “If it’s a significant increase in savings then we should do it. If it’s insignificant, I’m not sure I’d do it.”
Campion also said electric costs are always rising. Going with the solar install would lock in the 7.9 cents for 25 years.
A review of electric costs in the United States shows prices fairly flat from 2014 (10.44 cents per kWh) to 2019 (10.6 cents per kWh). Averaging the cost back 20 years results in an average 3 percent increase.
Campion said his company manages the entire project including utilities, engineers, permitting and coordination with the local power company.
“We’ve had some trouble getting with your co-op (Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative) but I understand they just changed managers so we’ll talk to them soon,” he said.
One of the misunderstandings about solar power is power outages, Campion said.
“It’s a bad assumption that if the grid goes down, they’ll still have power,” he said. “That’s not true unless an “islanding switch” is installed. That’s additional.
He said battery backup is very expensive. The islanding switch allows the user to use the solar power when there is an outage.
Board President Gilbert Serrano asked what happens to extra power generated.
Campion said they try to design the system so there is no excess power, to avoid a charge from the utility company
The 90-day plan proposed to the Board states the company would develop a cost benefit analysis, engage with the Co-op to ensure alignment, finalize the power purchase agreement and get the project started by April or May.
Serrano asked for the information to be sent to Valdez for his analysis and recommendation and no action was taken.