Solar Farms Would Replace New Mexico Coal-Fired Plants

A U.S. subsidiary of one of France’s largest providers of solar power has given New Mexico officials more detailed information about the company’s plans for developing a series of solar projects. The installations would help offset the loss of generation from retiring coal-fired power plants in the state, including the San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) near Farmington.

The 847-MW coal-fired SJGS is scheduled to close in June 2022. Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) earlier this year unveiled a plan using solar-plus-storage to replace the plant’s electricity output. The city of Farmington, meanwhile, has been working with Enchant Energy—a New Mexico company involved in carbon capture and sequestration—on a plan to retrofit the SJGS with carbon-capture technology in order to keep the facility operating. According to Enchant, an ownership agreement between the owners of the SJGS allows the city to acquire the power plant and transfer operations to Enchant.  

Josh Case, Photosol’s CEO, outlined his company’s solar projects in a meeting with San Juan County commissioners on Nov. 10. Case described how the three projects—collectively known as the Four Corners Solar Center—would benefit the region and support its economy, with all three expected to be operating by year-end 2023.

“Between France and the U.S., we have about a 7,500-MW pipeline of projects that are under development,” said Case. He noted that Photosol has ongoing U.S.-based projects in a dozen states.

Solar-Plus-Storage Projects

Photosol’s New Mexico plan includes Shiprock Solar, a 360-MW solar project that could include up to 186 MW/744 MWh of storage. The Shiprock installation would be located mostly on land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) north of the SJGS. Photosol received a variance from the BLM in August for Shiprock Solar, and is waiting on the results of an environmental assessment required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Case said he expects the NEPA review will find no significant environmental impacts.

Case said Photosol must enter into a transmission agreement with the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) to put electricity on the grid at WAPA’s Shiprock substation. He said his group is in the final phase of the interconnection study for the Shiprock project.

The 598-MW San Juan Solar installation, which would include 300 MW of energy storage, would be located on private land near the SJGS. Case said that project “will be interconnecting at the PNM San Juan Generating Station.” He said the San Juan project already has a power purchase agreement for 200 MW with PNM “that we signed about a month-and-a-half ago,” a deal awaiting approval from the state’s Public Regulation Commission at some point “from Nov. 18 to Dec. 2.” Case noted that with PRC approval, that portion of the project could enter commercial operation in June 2022.

The 400-MW Four Corners Solar project would be located in an area of reclaimed land at the site of the Navajo Mine, near Fruitland. Case said Photosol is working on the project with the Navajo Transitional Energy Co., a coal mining group that is building a renewable energy portfolio for the Navajo Nation.

Energy Transition Act

An increasing number of renewable energy projects, including wind and solar, have been proposed for New Mexico after state lawmakers enacted the Energy Transition Act last year. The law requires New Mexico to fully shift to renewable energy by 2045, and facilitates the closure of the state’s remaining coal-fired power plants, including the SJGS, the 253-MW Escalante Station in McKinley County in western New Mexico, and the 1,540-MW Four Corners Generating Station, like SJGS located in San Juan County. The Four Corners station was a POWER Top Plant award winner in 2019 after a successful project to upgrade the plant’s selective catalytic reduction technology.

State regulators earlier this year ordered PNM to come up with a plan that would use utility-scale renewables to replace PNM’s share of generation from the San Juan plant. The plan includes four projects, one of which is San Juan Solar. Regulators already have approved two of the projects: Arroyo Solar, a 300-MW solar installation with 150 MW/600 MWh of storage; and Jicarilla Solar I, a 50-MW solar project that includes 20 MW/80 MWh of storage.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM) closed Units 2 and 3 of the four-unit San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) near Farmington, New Mexico, in December 2017, leaving Units 1 and 4 in operation. Those units are scheduled to be closed in 2022, but a carbon capture and storage project has been proposed that would enable the SJGS to remain online. Courtesy: Kip Malone/PNM

Enchant Energy’s plan for a carbon capture project at SJGS relies on completion of a deal between Enchant and the plant’s current owners, which include PNM, Tucson Electric Power, Los Alamos County, and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. Enchant officials said the recent sale of PNM Resources, the parent of PNM, to Spanish-based utility Iberdrola’s subsidiary Avangrid, does not change Enchant’s plans.

“The announcement by Avangrid and PNM underscores the extremely dynamic nature of the electric energy and utility industries,” Enchant Energy CEO Cindy Crane said in a statement when the sale was announced in October.

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett, in a recent editorial in the Albuquerque Journal, wrote that the city continues to support keeping the SJGS open with carbon capture technology in place. Duckett wrote that the plant is important to “save over 1,500 jobs,” and wrote that with “carbon capture, San Juan Generating Station will produce electricity that has 70% less carbon dioxide emissions than combined cycle natural gas generation and 80% less carbon dioxide emissions than gas-fired peaking generation.”

The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) in October put its support behind the carbon capture project that could keep the plant in operation. A report prepared for the DOE, and released in early October, said carbon capture, storage, and utilization (CCUS) at the plant has benefits beyond emissions reduction.

“The CCUS scenario avoids economic harm and job losses to the San Juan area and New Mexico and creates large numbers of jobs,” the report said.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

SHARE this article