There are some who believe Las Cruces, NM could become the solar energy capital of the world.
The claim could be put to the test Monday when city council considers a land lease request, and future consideration of a land sale, for what could turn out to be a significant “green” solar energy project.
Representatives of SunEdison, which owns and operates power plants in North America and provides solar-generated energy to commercial, government, andutility customers, are anticipated to be at Monday’s 1 p.m. meeting to answer questions, provide information and persuade councilors to approve a 30-year lease for as many as 240 acres adjacent to Las Cruces International Airport.
If approved the lease could generate as much as $2.3 million for the city, according to officials.
The council will also discuss the proposed sale of as many as 200 acres at the West MesaIndustrial Park to SunEdison for possible development of a solar energy project. The council would formally consider the sale at its Nov. 1 meeting. The sale could net an additional $1.2 million, the city estimates.
Proceeds from the proposed land lease and land sale would be deposited into the city’s Airport and West Mesa Economic Development funds, respectively.
“This would be a tremendous coup for the city,” City Manager Terrence Moore said.
SunEdison was founded in 2003 by Jigar Shah, and is based in Beltsville, Md., with three additional California offices, in San Clemente, Sacramento and Ontario. In November 2009, the company was purchased by MEMC Electronic Materials for $400 million.
MEMC reported 1.16 billion in revenues in 2009, and operating income of $127 million. Its main offices are in St. Peters, Mo., and the company’s stock is traded by the New York Stock Exchange.
According to SunEdison’s website, it also has operations in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and India. It has generated almost 350 million kilowatt hours of electricity.
The company does not have any operational sites in New Mexico, and there are no records that the company is registered with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. But according to city documents, SunEdison is pursuing options for several other properties in Do-a Ana and Otero counties.
SunEdison officials have agreed, in principle, to immediately pay the city $1,000 for a one-year option that would allow the company to conduct feasibility and technical studies that would determine the exact size and location of a photovoltaic project site. The same terms would apply for the proposed purchase of 200 acres at the industrial park.
“Based on the results of feasibility and technical studies, four or five options may result in two or three actual leases or purchases,” according to city documents.
There is a sense of intrigue among some residents regarding the proposal.
“So, SunEdison is looking at the city to possibly build a solar generation facility. To me, that makes a lot of sense, considering the amount of sunshine we annually get here,” said Leon Tanner, a retired civil engineer, who has lived in Las Cruces the past four years. “Solar energy is the wave of the future, and this area seems to be an excellent candidate for projects like that.
“I’d be interested to know what effect, if any, this might have on our electrical bills.”
According to city documents, El Paso Electric Co. has chosen SunEdison to provide power to EPE. At public meetings last year, EPE officials said there would be state – and ultimately federal – requirements that companies like theirs would have to generate at least a portion of their power from solar energy.
The council also has some unfinished business to tend to at Monday’s meeting. It will consider a request from Las Cruces developer John Moscato to use individual septic systems in a proposedWest Mesa subdivision known as The Overlook.
A city ordinance requires that any new subdivisions must be connected to the city’s sewer system, unless homes or businesses are more than 200 feet from the nearest point of connection. Engineers for Moscato have said The Overlook is approximately 2 1/2 miles from the nearest connection.
Moscato has also agreed to several additional conditions, if the septic systems are granted. Those include: that all residential and commercial lots in The Overlook will have a minimum lot size of three acres; and all developed residential and commercial lots will have a septic tank installed between the building structure and dedicated roads, which would allow for easier future upgrades to a sanitary sewer system, if and when one becomes available.
Moscato has also agreed to: consider installation of sewer mains within proposed roadways of the development, along with sewer stub-outs to each lot, at the future time when the city is able to extend its sewer system to the subdivision; and that all proposed septic tanks will meet or exceed current New Mexico Environment Department regulations.
City Utilities Department officials have acknowledged that the special request to use septic systems in the proposed subdivision is unique and unprecedented. Historically, the council has been opposed to increasing the number of septic systems used within the city.