ENMU seeking to establish solar array

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

With a possible new solar array, Eastern New Mexico University is looking to benefit the environment and save money on electricity.

Vice President of Business Affairs Scott Smart said he has put out a request for proposals to construct a solar array on vacant land on Cherry Street near the Greyhound Arena. He said the university spends $1.5 million a year on electricity.

“If the numbers work like we hope, it’ll be about a 10 percent savings on what we pay right now for electricity,” Smart said.

Renewable energy is also a good thing for the university to get into, he said.

“Even if we get into this and couldn’t save money on the electricity, I would still opt for it because it’s a good thing to do for the environment,” Smart said. “I think we all have our role to play in that regard.”

Because rates in this area are low compared to most parts of the country, he said, the savings might be less than expected. Calculations would indicate the amount of power to be generated and the savings before the university entered into a agreement.

If the cost was less than it is now or the same, Smart said, the university would go ahead with the project. If the cost was more, decision-makers would reconsider the proposition in light of budget cuts.

If calculations are favorable to the project, Smart estimated the new solar array could be running by the fall of 2011. The power would be transmitted to a Cherry Street electrical substation that sends power straight to campus, he said.

Smart would like to enter into a purchase power agreement, in which the university doesn’t pay for, build, own or maintain the solar array. Instead, it would contract with the company that does and would agree to buy all of the power generated for 20 years.

Smart said tax breaks and federal stimulus money make such agreements profitable for solar energy companies.

Also, Xcel Energy spokesman Wes Reeves said his company was waiting to learn new rules from legislation that affects its solar energy incentives program, but ENMU would likely be eligible to participate if the solar array were to become a reality.