Tri-State to partner in New Mexico solar power plant project

“A positive step forward”

The company that provides the power flowing through Gunnison County Electric Association’s transmission lines has announced plans to build a 250-acre solar power plant in northeast New Mexico.



On March 24 Tri State Generation and Transmission announced that it had formed an agreement with Arizona-based First Solar Inc. to develop a 500,000-panel solar power plant outside of Cimarron, New Mexico.
“This is a significant venture for Tri-State that meets several objectives identified by our board of directors,” says Tri State general manager Kevin Anderson. “It further diversifies our generation mix, it assists us in addressing carbon emissions and it helps meet our members’ renewable energy requirements.”
Since Tri-State provides 100 percent of the electricity flowing through GCEA’s power lines, the solar project is receiving a good response from local clean energy advocates. High Country Citizens’ Alliance climate and clean energy coordinator Chris Menges says, “It’s a very positive step forward. Thirty megawatts is large, especially for a photovoltaic facility.”
GCEA board president Chris Morgan says, “We’re excited to be an owner of Tri-State and to be able to participate in a project that can promote renewable energy.” Furthermore, Morgan says, GCEA is “proud to be installing a project that is five times larger than the Excel [Energy] solar installation in the San Luis Valley.”
Tri-State’s solar power plant will be located in the service territory of the Springer Electric Cooperative, which is one of Tri-State’s 44 members, including GCEA. “It’s good to see that solar energy is finding a viable home within Tri-State’s generation resource mix,” says Springer Electric general manager David Spradlin.
The Cimarron I Solar Project will be the largest solar power plant serving a North American public electric cooperative, and one of the largest solar power stations in the world.
Cimarron I will use First Solar’s thin film photovoltaic technology to provide power. Thin film photovoltaic cells are much thinner than traditional solar panels.
“We are excited to be part of Tri-State’s first utility-scale [photovoltaic] power plant and the largest [photovoltaic] power plant serving a cooperative in the United States,” says First Solar executive vice president of marketing and business development John Carrington.
The facility will generate 30 megawatts of electricity, enough to power approximately 9,000 homes.
However, Menges notes, “That’s still a drop in the bucket for their overall load.” Menges says in Colorado alone Tri-State provides about 1,450 megawatts of electricity.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is currently asking for public input on whether it should oversee Tri-State’s resource planning, and one of the common criticisms of Tri-State is a lack of renewable energy in their resource portfolio. Instead ,Tri-State has been pursuing additional coal-fired power plant, which are cheaper to build per megawatt, but cause more pollution than other power generation methods.
Tri-State’s proposal for a new power plant in Holcomb, Kansas was recently denied after extensive planning and research. Menges says that’s one reason Tri-State needs to abandon its coal-based plans and focus on renewable energy like the solar plant. “They just wasted $44 million in ratepayer money on a coal plant that’s never going to happen,” he says.
Construction of Cimarron I is scheduled to begin in April 2010, with the system producing energy by the end of August.
The 250-acre parcel of land slated for the project is owned by Ted Turner, and will be leased by Tri-State and First Solar.
Tri-State won’t own the massive solar grid, but has contracted to purchase the power output over a 25-year period.

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