County Commissioners approve new PNM solar facility


County commissioners unanimously approved a zone change for a new solar facility on the county's east side, Monday evening, after little discussion amongst themselves.

The request, heard at the commissioner's Nov. 14 public hearing, garnered no public discussion at that time, either in favor of or against the zone change.

The approval rezoned nearly 60 acres from planned development to heavy industrial, I-3, to allow for the installation of a solar energy facility by PNM.

When the planning and zoning commissioners heard the request last month, they expressed concerns about other I-3 uses, such as scrap yards, being developed on the property.

The P&Z commission unanimously recommended the zone change, but limited the use of the property to solar only. If that use ceases at any time, the property automatically reverts back to PD, without any action necessary from the county, said County Planner Jacobo Martinez.

Commissioner Georgia Otero-Kirkham asked if PNM officials agreed to that stipulation, and Martinez said they had. He said the company had also been advised of the restrictions on heavy trucks on North Rio del Oro and would be going through the permitting process with his office.

The PNM project, referred to as the Manzano Solar Energy Center, is calling for the installation of 108,000 solar panels for an 8-megawatt energy generating facility.

The county doesn't have a zoning designation for renewable energy sources, only the I-3, heavy industry designation for power generating facilities.

The property is on the northwest corner of North Rio del Oro Loop and Bonita Vista Boulevard. Bonita Vista crosses the north loop, going north into the El Cerro-Monterey Park subdivision and south to Valencia High School.

Currently, there is a mobile home park to the north of the property that will share a fence with the facility, but no other development on the other three sides.

Laurie Moye, PNM's coordinator of regulatory, projects and public participation said the solar facility was needed to meet the company's 2013 renewable energy plan. There are existing transmission lines near the site that it will connect to, she said.

The site plan calls for an 8-foot chain link fence, with barbed wire at the top and concertina wire at the bottom.

"Unfortunately, we do have some issues with copper theft," Moye said. "They clip the bottom of the chain link and enter the property. The concertina wire slows them down."

Moye said she had met with the Valencia High School principal to discuss a schedule for the heavy trucks needed to bring in materials and equipment for the project.

"We plan to begin grading and drainage during Christmas break," she said.

When school is in session, the contractor will stay off North Rio del Oro between 7:45 and 8:30 a.m., and 2 and 2:45 p.m. Construction is anticipated to run from January through early March, Moye said.

She said PNM is working to complete the road permit application through Martinez's office.

Moye said the finished installation would be between 5- and 6-feet tall, with the fixed-place solar panels sitting on posts driven 4- to 8-feet into the ground.

"The developer prides itself in green development. The posts can be pulled out of the ground when they are no longer in use, and no concrete or debris will be left behind," Moye said.

Disturbed areas will be reseeded with native grasses and plants, and the property will be marked by PNM's standard 4-foot by 4-foot sign, she said.

"Property taxes are expected to initially be $200,000 per year," Moye said. "And the project has committed to using cost competitive local materials."

Commissioner Mary Andersen asked what the anticipated lifespan of the solar facility was. Moye said about 30 years, but with the solar industry changing quickly, it was possible for more efficient solar panels to be installed during that time period.

Commissioner Donald Holliday asked if PNM planned to add panels to the facility in the future or put up larger panels.

Moye said the site plan was "tight" with the current number of panels being the maximum. She also said the panels would remain the same size.

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