Manzano Solar Energy Center preparation to be complete this month

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Work has begun on the latest PNM solar energy site here in Valencia County.

The PNM Manzano Solar Energy Center, located near Valencia High School on the corner of North El Cerro Loop and Bonita Boulevard, sits on 60 acres and will contain 108,000 solar photovoltaic panels when work is completed later this fall.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Work has begun on a second solar installation on the east side of the county, the Manzano Solar Energy Center. The facility, located near Valencia High School, will be nearly identical in appearance to the Los Lunas facility, shown here.

In January, the company broke ground and started dirt work on the site. It will eventually produce enough energy to power about 2,500 average-sized homes.

According to a recent press release, the site preparation should be completed by this month and panel installation will begin this summer.

“We are excited to be breaking ground on our newest renewable energy resource. As we start our work throughout this project, safety will be our priority,” said Gary Barnard, PNM director of renewable energy development, in the same release. “It will be important for our community to be safety conscious and stay away from this or any construction.”

Because of the site’s close proximity to the high school, county officials expressed concerns about traffic conflicts when the project was brought forward for a zone change.

PNM representatives 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.

Laurie Moye, PNM’s coordinator of regulatory, projects and public participation, told county commissioners 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.

Commissioners unanimously approved a zone change from planned development to heavy industrial, I-3, in November.

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

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Doug Campbell, PNM’s manager of environmental planning and permitting, stands amidst the solar panels at the company’s Los Lunas solar energy site, explaining how the energy goes from the panels, to the converters then out onto the grid.

Planning and zoning commissioners heard the request prior to the county commission and unanimously recommended approval of the zone change with the condition that the use of the property be strictly limited to solar energy generation.

If that use ceases at any time, the property automatically reverts back to PD, without any action necessary from the county, said Valencia County Planner Jacobo Martinez.

The solar facility is needed to meet the PNM’s 2013 renewable energy plan, Moye said. There are existing transmission lines near the site that it will connect to.

The panels will be mounted at a height of six feet.

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

Disturbed areas will be reseeded with native grasses and plants, and the property will be marked by PNM’s standard four-foot-by-four-foot sign.

Moye said the Manzano facility was expected to generate about $200,000 in property taxes annually.

In response to commissioner’s questions about whether the site would expand or the panels replaced with larger ones, Moye said the east side site plan was “tight,” with the current number of panels being the maximum. She also said the panels would remain the same size.

The facility has an estimated life of 30 years.

This is the second solar generating center built by PNM in Valencia County. The first went into operation in 2011 and is located in the El Morro Business Park, northwest of the Walmart Distribution Center.

Doug Campbell, PNM’s manager of environmental planning and permitting, said the new Manzano facility will be almost identical to the Los Lunas site in appearance.

“If you’ve seen the Los Lunas site, you’ve pretty much seen Manzano.

“The panels will be fixed in position; they don’t move around or track the sun,” Campbell said.

While the panels won’t move, there is always the chance they could become damaged. If that is ever the case, during a recent tour of the Los Lunas site, Campbell points to a small placard on the back of the panels.

There is a toll free number for maintenance workers to call to get instructions on how to ship the damaged panel to a company that will recycle them.

“And if either of these sites were ever decommissioned, the panels would be taken off and recycled,” he said.

“Also, the posts the frames for the panels sit on are driven into the ground extremely deep. There’s no concrete down there, so everything here can be easily removed without too much disruption.”

Campbell also points out something else on the back of the panels — the cables that connect one panel group to the next and eventually carry the electricity to the transformers and out onto the grid.

“Don’t touch those,” he warns. “Even though this is solar, it’s still live and generating electricity.”

As the Manzano site gets underway this year, the Los Lunas facility is also expanding. Work on that center is expected to begin in July.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.