Kit Carson Installs Solar Array at El Rito Campus

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Kit Carson Electric Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Luis Reyes stood in front of a large, nearly empty dirt lot Sept. 13 and spoke to a crowd of just under 100 people about the new 1.5 megawatt solar array that will soon generate electricity for Northern New Mexico College’s El Rito campus.

“This is a great day for the community,” Reyes said. “This is a great day for New Mexico to have an entire university be 100 percent daytime solar by December of this year.”

The array is a project of the Cooperative, Northern New Mexico College and Guzman Energy, the company that worked with Kit Carson to get the Cooperative out of its decades-long contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which limited its production of locally-generated renewable energy to 5 percent of its portfolio.

Northern New Mexico College President Rick Bailey said when he moved to his home in El Rito, which is provided to the college president as part of the job, he asked people why the College left the community.

“The biggest answer was because of the cost of utilities,” he said. “The utilities were just too expensive here. It’s too expensive for water and heat and electricity and so the strategy that we employed from the beginning was let’s not accept that utilities are utilities. Let’s find a way to do something different.”

Bailey said planning for the project began over two-and-a-half years ago.

While the dirt lot only had a series of metal beams lying on the ground as of Sept. 13, construction is expected to move along quickly.

Dixon-based Sol Luna Solar and Taos-based PPC Solar will build the array together and construction should be completed by Dec. 10, Kit Carson’s website states.

The mood of the entire event was jovial. The speakers made jokes, the crowd clapped heartily during and after every speech and people excitedly talked about renewable energy before and after the groundbreaking ceremony.

Guzman Energy Chief Operating Officer Christopher Miller said the energy transition taking place in Northern New Mexico is a harbinger for the rest of the country.

“It’s not an overdramatization to say that the change that is happening in the energy economy in American is happening right here,” he said. “It really is a story about economic competitiveness and it is a story about the environment.”

Miller said the array also supports education in El Rito.

“You have two primary driving forces to a transition in an economy,” he said. “You have education and energy policy and we are literally on the forefront of those two things right here in this place.”

The big push to re-open the El Rito campus occurred during this year’s legislative session with the passage of Senate Bill 431, introduced by Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, and Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

The bill allows Northern to re-open the campus as a branch community college providing technical and vocational training courses. Voters will decide in the upcoming November election whether or not to fund the college by passing a two-mill property tax increase.

The array also serves as a sort of economic and tax stimulus package, Miller said, by lowering member-owners’ bills and by lowering the cost of power for businesses in the service area.

A press release for the event states the 1.5 megawatt solar array will include 6,000 panels. It will provide power for the college and about 850 additional homes and businesses.

Each megawatt keeps about $1.1 million in the community, the press release states, by creating construction jobs and generating taxes.

Kit Carson’s website states it has about 23,000 member-owners, 7,000 broadband Internet customers and 3,300 propane customers across Taos, Colfax and Rio Arriba counties.

The Cooperative has 14 solar arrays online, as well as six projects scheduled for 2019, its website states. There are also about 500 member-owners who have a net metering solar system at their home or business. These systems generated 2,139,297 kilowatt hours of electricity in 2018. In total, the member-owners net metering facilities have generated over 9 million kilowatt hours of electricity since systems first came online.

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