Solar projects add to energy diversity

Hannah Grover
The Bloomfield Senior Center is one of several buildings in the town that now sport solar panels.

FARMINGTON – Solar energy is slowly gaining a foothold in San Juan County as local cities engage in renewable energy projects.

From Bloomfield's electric performance contract to Aztec's solar field and Farmington's community solar project, local governments are embracing renewable energy.

The electric performance contract involved upgrading lighting on city of Bloomfield buildings such as the senior center and the municipal operations center. Solar panels also were installed on the Bloomfield parks department building, the municipal operations building, a fire station and the senior center.

Teresa Brevik, the projects manager, said the lighting upgrades should be completed this month, and the solar panels were completed in February.

"They've been generating electricity and putting it back into the grid," she said.

Brevik said the city was interested in the electric performance contract as a way to save money. She said electricity is one of the larger recurring expenses for the city, and the lighting upgrades and solar panels are expected to save Bloomfield approximately $40,000 a year.

"In times like these, any little thing helps," Brevik said.

The city of Aztec plans on building a solar farm on this plot of land just south of Western Drive in Aztec.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, Aztec signed an electric purchase contract with Guzman Energy. As part of the contract, Guzman Energy is building a solar farm in southwest Aztec off of Western Drive.

City Manager Josh Ray said the solar farm should be completed by the end of May. The solar field will then undergo testing through June so that it can be operating by July 1, Ray said.

He said the solar field is a critical piece in the long-term viability of Aztec's electric system because after the contract with Guzman Energy is up in 2023, the city will not have to purchase as much power.

"It's nice to have an increased portfolio of renewables," Ray added.

Rodney Romero, the Farmington Electric Utility System director, said an increased portfolio of renewable energy is something customers have been demanding.

Because of demand from customers, Farmington is conducting a feasibility study for a community solar project. Romero said customers would have an option of buying shares in a solar project. Customers may be able to pay a flat rate each month or pay upfront into the solar project, he said.

The amount customers pay would be based on their energy consumption and, initially, the customers who choose to participate would pay more for power.

"You're buying a solar facility that you know is going to be a flat cost," Romero said.

He explained that the electric utility rates for nonsolar customers could increase with inflation while the solar customers could see their rate even decrease as the solar facility was paid off. Eventually, the solar customers will have a lower rate than nonsolar customers. He said it works the same way for people who install solar panels on their house.

Because the project is driven by customer interest, Romero said the city does not know how large the project could be or where it might be located. A survey conducted by the electric utility resulted in about 900 responses, mostly in favor of the project, he said. However, that does not mean enough customers will buy into the system for it to become a reality.

"We could work through this process and come to find that there's not enough customers," Romero said.

In addition to local cities, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority also has been investing in solar. On Saturday, members of the Navajo Nation Council attended a groundbreaking for the Kayenta solar facility, located on about 300 acres of land west of Kayenta, Ariz.

The solar facility is the first large-scale solar farm in the Navajo Nation, according to a press release from Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker. It is expected to provide the utility with about 27.5 megawatts of energy after construction is completed by the end of the year.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.