Aztec reduces dependency on fossil fuels

Aztec officials say renewable energy allowed the city to reduce electrical rates

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Juan Montoya an electrician with Mosher Enterprises Inc., installs a grounding rod on Monday at the city of Aztec's solar farm project site off Western Drive in Aztec.
Juan Montoya an electrician with Mosher Enterprises Inc., installs a grounding rod on Monday at the city of Aztec's solar farm project site off Western Drive in Aztec.
  • Aztec may receive wind energy in the future.
  • Aztec mayor says a diverse energy portfolio is important for the city.

AZTEC — About a decade after Aztec started looking to decrease its reliance on fossil fuels, the city is now looking at a future where it could possibly get less than 20 percent of its electricity from fossil fuel sources.

During a meeting last month, officials from Guzman Energy, which sells power to Aztec, told the City Commission that Aztec could receive 40 percent of its power from wind in the future. That will be in addition to the 37 percent it currently receives from hydropower. The city also receives 6 percent of its energy from a solar farm built last year on land donated by the Townsend family west of Riverside Park. 

Two years ago, only 15 percent of the city's electricity was not generated by fossil fuels. The city was purchasing about 85 percent of its power from Public Service Company of New Mexico and received 15 percent from hydropower from Lake Powell through the Western Area Power Administration.

While the wind will not provide any monetary benefits to the city itself, Mayor Sally Burbridge said it will add to the diversity of the city's energy portfolio.

"It's almost like planning your financial portfolio," she explained.

The city of Aztec's new solar farm is located off Western Drive. The city of Aztec's new solar farm is located off Western Drive.

Burbridge said while planning finances people should not invest in only one type of stock because if that stock goes down it will hurt the financial portfolio.

The road to diversifying the city's energy portfolio began in 2008 when Burbridge and city staff began considering renewable generation options. She said the city did not have any self-generated power and could not afford large-scale generation using fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. At the same time, state funding was available for renewable energy projects.

While the solar farm is now providing about 1 megawatt of energy, the city has not stopped looking at ways to further diversify its energy portfolio.

Burbridge and city staff recently visited Nambe Pueblo's waste-to-energy facility. Burbridge said she hopes Aztec will be able to follow in the pueblo's footsteps and eventually get energy from trash.

Because of that hope, Burbridge voted against adding curbside recycling. She said only 25 percent of residents would recycle, but the waste-to-energy project could remove 100 percent of Aztec's solid waste from landfills.

"To me, it's a much bigger win than a small percentage of residents recycling," she said.

The city hopes to expand its solar capacity in the future. This could mean adding more panels to the array just west of Riverside Park or creating another solar field near Tiger Park.

"If there's an opportunity for us to build another field, I think we should consider it," said City Manager Joshua Ray.

Guzman Energy has also focused on renewable sources of power due to an increased public interest in solar and wind.

"Our customers are increasingly interested in renewables as a portion of their energy portfolio for two reasons," said Jeff Heit, the managing director of Guzman Energy, in an email. "The first is that they care about the effects of climate change, and the impact that is having on their families, communities and futures. And secondly, these positive environmental impacts can be achieved while simultaneously lowering energy prices — making their communities more competitive while maintaining grid stability. It really is a win-win."

The renewable energy sources have allowed Aztec to reduce its cost of service and lower electric utility rates. The lower electric rates will go into effect Oct. 1.

"Our goal is not to take jobs out of the coal-fired power plants," Ray said.

He said the area has been in an economic downturn for about nine years.

"People have fewer dollars in their pockets," Ray said.

Aztec's push for more renewable energy is not unique in the state. Shortly after Aztec entered a contract with Guzman Energy, Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative also entered a similar contract with the Florida-based company. The electrical cooperative located near Taos is currently working with Guzman to develop a solar array that could produce about 30 megawatts of power.

"We believe increased renewables penetration is good for the energy markets, the economy, and more broadly the planet," Heit said. "We are experiencing massive disruption in the energy markets globally, and renewables are a key contributor to that disruption. The energy mix of the future will include significant renewable assets and battery storage — likely assembled into regional microgrids — with traditional fossil fuels playing a less critical but still meaningful role." 

Burbridge also acknowledges that fossil fuels play an important role in the electric utility. She said fossil fuels provide power when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow.

"I realize we're never going to eliminate completely those fossil fuel components," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.