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AZTEC — A proposal to build a 372-megawatt solar array north of the San Juan Generating Station would lead to more than 1,100 direct and indirect construction jobs as well as a $680 million investment into the community.

If approved, Photosol US hopes to begin construction in 2022 and complete the project within two years. The array would generate enough electricity to power 91,000 homes and would include 1.3 million solar panels.

Photosol US is a subsidiary of a French company and is headquartered in Lehi, Utah.

After the project is completed, the plant could create up to 31 jobs depending on how it is operated. Those people would make between $35,000 and $50,000 annually.

Photosol anticipates the plant will operate for 35 years and it will cost $8.1 million annually to operate the facility.

But before any of that can happen, Photosol must receive a variance from the Bureau of Land Management that will allow them to construct a solar array on the federal land. If it receives the variance, the project will then undergo an environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act. This will evaluate economic, environmental and cultural impacts of the project. Then a record of decision will be issued regarding whether or not the project can proceed.

As part of the variance process, Photosol, the Bureau of Land Management and consultants participated in a public outreach meeting on May 27 using Zoom. Information about the project is available at shiprocksolar.com.

At this time, Photosol does not have any customers to take the power once the array is completed. The company will be seeking power purchase agreements at later stages of the process.

Photosol selected the location for various reasons, including the possible closure of the San Juan Generating Station in 2022 and the planned closure of Four Corners Power Plant in 2031.

Josh Case, CEO of Photosol US, said the company likes to build solar arrays near closing power plants because there is existing transmission infrastructure in the area and the solar arrays can provide replacement generation. The site is also relatively level and has ample sunlight.

“This is an ideal location for a utility-scale solar project,” Case said.

Case also highlighted New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act as an incentive for building a solar array near the existing coal-fired power plant. The Energy Transition Act lays out a path to 100% clean or renewable energy by 2050.

“New Mexico is an emerging solar state,” he said.

If built, the project would impact three grazing allotments, including cutting off access to two pastures that are part of the Shumway Arroyo AMP grazing allotment, according to Joey Herring, a biologist with Ecosphere Environmental Services. Ecosphere is a Durango, Colorado, company hired as a consultant on the project.

In addition, Herring said surveys have found 29 cultural sites in the area, including 14 sites that are eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. 

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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