Two major solar installations quadruple solar in Farmington electric grid
San Juan Medical Center and Target install 7,400 panels in separate projects this fall
FARMINGTON — It was business as usual at Farmington’s Target store on Oct. 11, despite a major installation.
“The building has run today just as it has any other day, so I guess looking at it from someone who doesn’t know anything about energy, you can definitely say it’s just as good,” said the store's general manager, Isaiah Shay.
Shay stood on the roof of the store amid more than 1,400 freshly installed solar panels, which went live on Oct. 11. The solar farm will generate up to one-third of the store’s energy, Shay said.
The solar farm was installed over the course of a month by Solar City Corp., a subsidiary of Tesla based out of California, Shay said.
The Target corporation made a commitment to solar energy, promising to install solar facilities at 500 of its stores by 2020, according to a press release. In 2016, the corporation added more than 75 megawatts of solar in stores across the nation.
Target is the second major business in the city of Farmington to integrate solar power into its infrastructure. San Juan Regional Medical Center’s 6,000-panel solar farm went live in late summer, with approximately a quarter of the hospital’s power coming from the sun. A hospital spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.
These two major solar projects have quadrupled the number of solar units installed in Farmington, said Farmington Electric Utility System Director Hank Adair.
“If you take the entire last eight years of installations of solar in our electric system, it adds up to about 494 kW of install, and this year alone — and the year’s not over — we already have 2,000 kW of install,” Adair said.
Of the 2001.6 kW installed since January, about 25 kW have been installations at five residential sites, Adair said.
FUES covers most of San Juan County, including Blanco, Bloomfield, Kirtland and Farmington. The city of Aztec is on its own grid, after signing a seven-year solar agreement in 2016 with a Florida-based company called Guzman Energy.
City of Aztec Electric Director Ken George said the city gets about eight percent of its power from its solar farm, with the remainder from Western Area Power Administration and other Guzman Energy resources.
Aztec residents asked for a green energy alternative to power for about 15 years before the Guzman deal, George said, but not many people invested in solar on their own before the deal, mainly because of cost, which can depend on the type and number of panels and infrastructure work to comply with safety inspections.
“We have excellent sun here, and the people that I talk to are the engineers, and the people in the solar business say the Four Corners is perfect for installing solar installation,” George said. “The only hold back, currently, is the price per watt to install solar.”
Solar installations in FEUS have steadily increased slightly since 2009, with the previous peak in 2015 when 134 kW were installed. Adair said that peak was a result of a five-year extension of federal solar investment tax credits, which deducts 30-percent of installation costs for residential and commercial solar consumers, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
As for the near future, Adair said there’s more solar on FEUS’s radar. The City of Farmington is currently accepting bids for a small scale solar project.
“It’s bid for 500 kW and then as much as can be put on the real estate we have defaulted for that and this type of work,” Adair said. “It’s similar to what Guzman and (the city government) did in Aztec. We’re looking at it for a community solar project, but if we don’t get subscriptions, we’ll also look at it as an industrial project evaluated by staff, council and the mayor.”
The closing period for project bids is Oct. 31, Adair said.
Generally, Adair said he predicts solar to remain a growing part of Farmington’s grid “unless the price point changes quite a bit from what it’s been” — and it could, depending on an International Trade Commission decision regarding tariffs for imported solar panels.
In May, a U.S.-based solar manufacturing company called Suniva filed a Section 201 petition with the ITC and asked for federal relief from global competition with imported solar cells. Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 enables domestic companies whose business is harmed by increased imports from foreign companies to request federal relief, according to the ITC website.
The ITC determined that Suniva’s business was harmed by foreign imports in September, so the case is currently in the remedy phase, according to SEIA. The ITC should send its relief recommendations on to President Donald Trump in early November, and the president has until January to accept or deny the ITC’s recommendation and to determine what relief, if any, will be imposed.
Suniva — along with other major U.S. solar manufacturers, First Solar Inc. and SolarWorld Americas — argues that federal relief will “restore fair competition in the U.S. market” that’s flooded with solar infrastructure produced outside the U.S., according to a press release published by SolarWorld when it joined Suniva’s petition in May.
However, the Solar Energy Industry Association said the proposed tariffs could drive up the price for solar installation, “crippling demand and costing 88,000 (domestic) jobs in the industry,” according to the website.
Adair said he hopes the results from the case are “consistent and easy to understand,” but the decision either way likely won’t change plans to replace coal consumption at the San Juan Generation Station with up to 5 megawatts of solar power over the next 20 years.
The plan to retire the coal-fired plant has yet to be finalized, Adair said, and under the current plan, solar would account for only a percentage of the electricity put out by replacement sources, which also include nuclear, natural gas and wind power.
“Our integrated resources plan has many considerations in it — other than just SJGS potential retirement — that define our solar installations and overall generation portfolio going forward,” Adair said.
Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.