Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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Known as Aggie Power, there’s a 10,000-panel solar array project that is being built at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in collaboration with El Paso Electric (EPE). It has created an alternative energy system that will provide another useful research laboratory and instructional tool for NMSU faculty and students majoring in electrical engineering.

The startup funding for Aggie Power came from EPE, with NMSU covering the remaining cost, spread out in monthly payments on their electric bill. As the first battery storage system for EPE, results from NMSU’s research will benefit the company as well. EPE has agreed that no customers would pay for any cost.

The power center, a 3-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility, is located on NMSU’s Arrowhead Park, a 29-acre land parcel between I-10 and I-25. The high visibility was intentional. They want the public to see it and learn.

New Mexico State University Chancellor Dan Arvizu and El Paso Electric President and CEO Kelly Tomblin spoke about the challenges ahead as New Mexico begins to diversify its energy sector. They told a group gathered at Arrowhead Park to celebrate Aggie Power it was critical to support the goals of creating a balanced and sustainable energy economy.

“Our partnership with EPE moves us forward and is a perfect example of our ability to balance investments in infrastructure while providing a state-of-the-art living laboratory to complement our educational programs,” Arvizu said.

Arvizu has been appointed to the National Council of Advisors on Science and Technology by the White House. The council makes policy recommendations on innovation, science and technology to the president. Arvizu has a background as the director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

“Aggie Power is a living example of the strength of public-private partnerships and the power we have to direct the path to our clean energy goal of 100 percent decarbonization by 2045,” Tomblin said. “Imagine the other possibilities available when we all pull together and work toward a common goal.” 

Construction began on the project in December 2020. Affordable Solar, based in Albuquerque, is the general contractor for the project. EPE owns, operates, maintains and oversees Aggie Power. 

NMSU currently heads a state initiative funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, designed to promote business development and job creation by helping communities participate in the state’s emerging green energy economy. The university is also working with the DOE on creating clean energy startup companies through NMSU’s Arrowhead Center. NMSU continues to seek additional federal funding for further energy initiatives.

“We all want clean energy,” Tomblin said. “EPE has recently announced our goal of 80 percent carbon neutral by 2035 and decarbonization, 100 percent by 2045. But we also know that we have the socioeconomics that requires us to solve for affordability, reliability and for sustainability; projects like this help us to do that.”