New Mexico Airport Completes 1 MW Solar Project

The final phase of a solar array at Albuquerque’s main airport has been completed, translating to one megawatt of power.

The Sunport estimates that the total amount of power produced will save in excess of $300,000 in annual electricity costs.


image via SunEdison

The  last photovoltaic (PV) installation on the airport’s parking lot consists of five arrays, added to the eight arrays already that were completed three years ago. The existing arrays provide power to  to the parking structure, and have already reduced the energy bill for the building by 75 percent. The five new additions will be used to supply the terminal building.

Known as the Sunport, the airport is the largest commercial flight hub in New Mexico and welcomes over six million travelers a year.

The solar project was paid for in the main with a $1.8 million VALE (Voluntary Airport Low Emissions) grant from the FAA.

The New Mexico energy utility PNM has agreed to buy the renewable energy certificates associated with every kilowatt-hour of electricity the solar arrays produce. This will help offset the airport’s investment and allow PNM to achieve state energy requirements.

The Southwest of the U.S has seen a proliferation of solar projects in recent years although considering the region’s potential solar output it still lags some way behind big solar states like California.

A cooperative of ranchers in north central New Mexico recently announced plans to install over 5,000 solar panels.

The Rio Costillo Cooperative Livestock Association (RCCLA) are funding an array consisting of 5,280 panels, which is expected to produce 1.25 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable solar energy per year, or enough to power 376 average homes in the area.

Meanwhile in October a consortium made up of Xcel Energy, Wells Fargo and SunEdison announced the completion of three solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants near Carlsbad, N.M. The sites are the first three phases of a project that will ultimately consist of five solar plants with a total capacity of 53.5 megawatts (MW).

Once completed, it is expected to be among the largest PV projects in the country, generating more than 1.9 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity over 20 years – enough to power more than 186,000 average U.S. homes for one year.

The media mogul Ted Turner has gotten in on the act too, installing a solar farm on a 364-acre plant site close to his Vermejo Park Ranch. The farm will supply energy to 9,000 local homes.

The Sunport was the first U.S. airport to receive a VALE grant for an on-site solar project.  The first grant was in the amount of $2.4 million and provided for six solar arrays.

The VALE grants were set up to pay for projects that directly reduce emissions at an airport facility. The city of Albuquerque’s administration made the case that a PV array would lower emissions on site and regionally, by reducing dependence on coal-based power.


Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply June 25, 2012


    Getting renewable energy from remote locations where solar panel arrays and wind farms are often located, to population centers where the electricity is needed, has been difficult up until now, and is one of the things keeping the US from being 100% powered by renewable energy.

    According to, a project aimed at helping to address this difficulty, the Tres Amigas SuperStation project,  is about to break ground this summer, thanks to an influx of new investments. 

    Located in Clovis, New Mexico, the SuperStation will connect the three major electrical grids in the US (East, West and Texas), allowing renewable energy to flow back and forth between them.  Initially, Tres Amigas will only be able to transfer 750MW of power between the East and West grids, but eventually, solar energy harvested in California could easily be sent to Texas, as well.

    Besides making renewable energy available all over the country, the SuperStation hub could also help to make the nation’s power system more reliable, though smart grid technology will still be needed to modernize and secure our power system.

    Visit to find out more.

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