In Alcalde stands a field of solar panels, a 2.5 megawatt array, which, on Feb. 25, began providing power to people in Jemez Mountain Electric Cooperative’s coverage area.
“We reduced our carbon footprint and reduced our line loss which equates to lowering our overall operational cost,” Co-op Board President Leo Marquez wrote in Feb. 28 text message.
But details surrounding the array remain foggy.
Rio Arriba County owns the land on which the array stands. County Economic Developer Christopher Madrid said the County leases the land to Cuba Jemez, LLC, one of at least two companies owned by Jerry Mosher, for $30,000 a year.
It is not clear who owns the array itself.
At the site of the array, a Rio Grande SUN reporter encountered a man who introduced himself as Todd and said he is the owner of the solar array.
He refused to state his last name, because, he said, he heard there are “political issues” surrounding the array. He did not elaborate.
Madrid, Marquez and Co-op General Manager Ernesto Gonzales all said they do not know who Todd is.
Jerry Mosher did not return a call asking what relationship Todd has to Mosher’s companies.
Marquez also wrote in a Feb. 26 text message that he did not know what political issues surround the array.
“None that I know of,” he wrote. “That project is in the books.”
The deal between the Co-op and Cuba Jemez, LLC that resulted in the construction of the array is controversial, due to the scrapping of another deal and the involvement of Board Trustee-at-Large John Tapia in securing the deal with Cuba Jemez. Tapia is an employee of Jerry Mosher.
Before the Co-op made the agreement with Cuba Jemez, former general manager Joseph Sanchez had been working on another plan with a Chicago-based energy company SoCore Energy, LLC to construct a 7.5 megawatt solar array in the Black Mesa area.
SoCore would have sold the energy to the Co-op for a little less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a 2017 press release from former general manager Donna Montoya-Trujillo.
Under the arrangement with Cuba Jemez, the Co-op will buy the array’s power at a rate of 6 cents per kilowatt hour, Gonzales said.
The SoCore deal would have saved the Co-op between $577,912 to $1,318,394 from 2018 to 2022, according to an internal Co-op email: $577,912 in a worst-case scenario, where the Co-op would have to pay high land costs and high property taxes; $1,079,999 in a mediocre-case scenario, where the Co-op would have to pay low land costs and low property taxes; and $1.3 million in a best-case scenario, where there would be no land costs or property taxes.
Gonzales said the agreement with Cuba Jemez will save the Co-op money, but he did not know how much.
At a November 2017 Board meeting, a month after Sanchez resigned from the Co-op, Tapia, the then-chair of the Co-op’s energy committee, said the Co-op would come up with a different plan for implementing solar energy.
Montoya-Trujillo announced at a December 2017 Board meeting that the Co-op decided to scrap Sanchez’s plan, saying it would take too long to recoup the $1.5 million required to build a conductor line from the solar array to the nearest substation.
Then, in 2018, the Co-op energy committee made the deal with Cuba Jemez.
Sanchez challenged the decision surrounding the new deal in a 2017 letter, stating that the break-even point with the solar array he planned would likely occur in six to 10 years, and that it did not appear that the committee consulted the proper experts.
Board President Leo Marquez wrote in a Feb. 28 text message that for the SoCore deal, $2 million to $4 million “was going to have to be spent to hook up to the grid” and develop roads.
Marquez was not able to provide documentation for this figure, because he was out of town, he wrote. Gonzales said he could not provide documentation to back up the statement, either.
“Compared to the project that was being planned by then GM Joseph Sanchez and Board President Bruce Duran that would have cost the coop and it’s members anywhere from ($)2M to ($)4M to connect the grid and the revenue going out of state. I say this is a win win for everybody involved,” Marquez wrote. “Very little cost to the coop and it’s members (sic).”
The array has the capacity to produce 2,184 kilowatt-hours per hour, Gonzales said. He said he did not know what percentage of the Co-op’s power the array will produce on average.
A grand opening of the array is planned for March 11.
Gonzales said the Co-op may also enter into another agreement with Cuba Jemez, under which Cuba Jemez would construct another solar array on the land the Co-op recently purchased in Cuba.
If the deal goes through, the Co-op would buy power produced there at a rate of 5.6 cents per kilowatt hour, Gonzales said.