By Barbara Kessler

It’s not often you get a warm and fuzzy feeling about your utility provider – unless perhaps a brown out zaps your air conditioning and the summer sweat blurs your vision. But New Mexico residents can think happy thoughts about their power companies.

Four New Mexico electricity providers have partnered to bring the first large solar installation to the state in hope of providing solar-generated electricity by 2012, the companies announced Monday.

The project, to be built by the bid-winning solar contractor, will be large enough to deliver between 211,000 and 375,000 megawatt-hours per year – enough to power at least 29,000 to 52,000 typical New Mexico homes.
The facility must use state of the art “parabolic trough” technology, according to a joint request for proposals for the solar installation.

That technology uses trough-shaped mirrors that focus sunlight onto an oil-filled tube. The oil generates steam which turns a generator and produces electricity. Because steam is employed and can be stored, the installation can produce electricity at night and on cloudy days, giving it a leg up on more basic solar generators.

The four cooperating power companies serve nearly all of the states’ residents and have required that the installation be based in New Mexico, a reasonable request given the state’s sunny location. The cooperating companies include: El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy, PNM, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association .

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