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Groundbreaking Energy Project Has High Expectations

In an era in which the term “power” or “energy company” doesn’t often spark the greatest reactions—especially in tribal communities after years of Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Other energy infrastructures, like those currently invading Chaco cultural space, have left a bad taste in our mouths. What is happening a few hours north of Albuquerque is a welcome departure from the norm and will benefit both the Jicarilla Apache Nation and N.M.’s power grid.

Last week 500 acres of Jicarilla land was part of a groundbreaking ceremony that laid the foundation for a 50-megawatt solar power generating station. This relationship is interesting in that it is an agreement between two power authorities. Jicarilla had the foresight nearly 14 years ago to begin to operate its own power utility authority. That has provided a means to work with groups like PNM and energy partner Hecate LLC. Hecate is a Chicago-based power company that is a major player in the nation’s renewable energy development. This agreement not only goes a long way toward showing that positive government-to-government relations, as well as the ability to work within the lines of Tribal Sovereignty, can be beneficial for everyone involved. 

The clean power generated from this plant can easily power 16,000 average homes. When completed, this project will be the third-largest solar project on Tribal land in the United States. Putting the solar field size into context, 500 acres covers roughly 321 football field-sized tracts of land. The power-buying agreement between the three entities involved is the result of the  Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s Solar Direct program. This program allows large power users like the City of Albuquerque to purchase power at a lower cost directly from facilities like these, but only if they agree to a 15-year commitment to using that renewable resource.

PNM Communications point person Sara Yingling stated, “We hope that with programs like Solar Direct, we can bring attention to other tribes and tribal entities to look towards this example and say, ‘Hey, we have untapped potential as well!’ In the hopes that other local communities reach out, and we can potentially look into working together.”

For years PNM has taken steps to better their working relationship with tribes in its service area, as well as those outside their regular service area in regards to various energy agreements. A large part of this collaborative success comes from the work of PNM Tribal Liaison Travis Suazo, who said via email, “The merger is a positive move in our relationship with all customers, including Tribal communities and Tribal customers. Renewable development, jobs, communities we serve could see a positive benefit from this merger.”

This is a positive piece of news, but one to observe and follow up on over the next few years. Energy development on Tribal land was once something that didn’t bring about the best responses from people. But partnerships like this, especially with its scope and attention to the needs of those involved, could serve to benefit our communities. We can only hope for sunny days ahead for all. [ ]