Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Are Utility-Scale Solar Projects Good or Bad for NM?


Can Solar Assure A Greener Future?

As New Mexico continues to invest in green energy, we are assuring a cleaner future but are going about it the right way?

When one thinks of the most abundant natural resources that New Mexico has to offer, sunshine should definitely be on the list. Along with coal, natural gas, uranium and various metals, New Mexico gets over 310 days of sunshine and approximately 999.9 sun hours on average per year, according to weather-and-climate.com. It’s this sunshine that makes New Mexico an ideal place for solar energy production; and with so much open land, it seems like a no-brainer. But is it? The people at Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC. seem to believe that it is.

Western Albuquerque Land Holdings currently owns 28,000 acres of land on Albuquerque’s far west side. On this land, north of I-40, you’ll find companies like Tempur-Pedic, FedEx and Shamrock Foods. This is also where Amazon is building its new fulfillment center. On the south side of I-40, this is where Western Albuquerque Land Holdings is planning on building the Santolina master-planned community. This plan area, as identified by bernco.gov, is approximately 13,700 acres; and according to an interview in the Albuquerque Journal with Richard Starr, vice president of Garrett Development Corp., the solar projects would be built on 6,200 acres on the west side of those land areas.

This system would represent an investment of approximately $1 billion in four different power plants to supply renewable energy to various utilities such as Public Service Company of New Mexico and would connect the Pajarito substation that PNM is building as a part of the land set aside for Santolina. There is no doubt that a project of this scale will yield jobs and opportunities to qualified candidates, if only temporarily. (See Facebook’s solar array in Los Lunas for a sneak preview of what might be in store.)

Money and opportunity are things that our state desperately needs, but at what expense? The desert of Albuquerque’s far west side, as barren as it may seem, is as alive as an old-growth forest, and putting down an 800-megawatt, utility-scale, ground-mounted solar array could be very damaging to our natural environment. In a report on desertsun.com, Devin Emmerich, a co-founder of the environmental group Basin and Range Watch (in response to several proposed solar farms for the California desert) is quoted as saying, “We have the ability to get off of fossil fuels in a responsive, ecologically friendly way.”Emmerich goes on to say, “We’re not doing that. We’re creating new environmental problems by trying to create solutions to old environmental problems.”

In the book Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice, ecologist Eugene Odum is cited as saying, “In 2014, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan framework was established to guide solar development on federal, public and private lands in order to avoid potential compromise of species or ecosystems or the possibility of assaulting the rights and cultures of Native Americans. This no regrets policy avoids the mistakes made in California on several solar projects built on undistributed desert ecosystems.” In order to build an environmentally sustainable energy source, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC needs to take this into consideration when trying to capitalize on one of our state’s best and most abundant resources.


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