Guest Post by Todd G. Dickson of the Las Cruces Bulletin. This article is from the March 25, 2011 issue of the Las Cruces Bulletin.
If you’ve driven out of Hatch up state Highway 26 lately, you might have seen a field of large concrete posts sprouting around the Skyline Produce operations on the hills overlooking the village’s airport.
By July, those 84 pedestals will be topped with advanced solar cells for a 5.1 megawatt generation plant, said Hatch Mayor Judd Nordyke.
“The project is being built in three stages,” Nordyke said.
First, the pedestals were erected with reinforced concrete. Now, workers are beginning to prepare for the second construction phase, installing the platforms and rotation mechanisms. Attaching the solar panels will be the final construction phase.
Just arrived are what are called torque tubes – 70-foot-long hollow steel structures and framing, which hold the solar panels. Once completed, the platform and panels will be 50 feet wide at a height of 55 feet.
Late last year, Hatch announced that the solar plant would be coming after the company building it – NextEra Energy Re sources – completed negotiations for a power purchase agreement with El Paso Electric Co.
The plant takes up most of the village’s 41-acre industrial park. With Skyline Produce, the industrial park has only about one acre left, but Nordyke said the village is looking at acquiring more acreage in the area of the airport for more solar voltaic generation operations.
“It’s all just scrub land we’re not using for anything,” he said.
The Hatch solar plant may seem small in looking at NextEra Energy Resources’ total operations nationwide. It is the largest U.S. company in the renewable energy market with a total gen erating capacity of more than 18,000 megawatts in its operations in 28 states and Canada.
What makes the Hatch plant different, however, is its use of new technology to get energy from the sun in a more concentrated fashion. Once up and running this summer, the Hatch plant will be the largest plant in North America using concentrated solar photovoltaics, Cory Ramsel, NextEra Energy Re sources project manager told the Bulletin late last year when the village had first approved the project.
“It’s a little project, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Ramsel said.
The plant’s solar panels will have specialized optics that greatly concentrate the sunlight onto silicon cells to generate electricity. It’s a method that was first developed by Sandia National Laboratories.
Jim Hayhoe, a consultant to the Village of Hatch, began working on the project more than two years ago out of networking for local economic development from Spaceport America, which is located in the desert between Hatch and Truth or Consequences. At the 2008 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, Hayhoe met Paul Turner of Renergix Solar. By early 2009, Renergix formed a partnership with NextEra to get the project going.
The mostly automated facility will only need two full-time employees, but the construction has brought in construction workers and the plant is expected to attract other green industries.
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