TOME — Valencia County’s higher education institution is seeing returns on its investment in renewable energy.
After installing several roof-top solar arrays at The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus in the last few years, Rick Goshorn, director of business operations, is happy to report an annual savings in utility costs.
“Our energy plan is to get to 60 percent use and reducing overall costs,” Goshorn said.
The campus now receives nearly 18 percent of its energy from solar power.
Solar installations began going up in 2015, first on the business and technology building, then the administration building. Goshorn said the next arrays will go on four buildings on the campus, including the health services building.
In the three years since starting the solar installations, Goshorn said costs have decreased while manufacturing processes and solar technology has improved.
“The first phase was about $260,000 and reduced our utilities by about 8 percent. The second phase was projected to reduce them by about 10 percent,” he said. “The next two phases should get us close to the 60 percent.”
The first two phases cost between $400,000 and $500,000, Goshorn said, but next two installations should be between $300,000 and $400,000 total.
A February 2018 proposal for a 231.8 kilowatt roof-mount solar array put the up front cost at $391,939, and estimated a 30-year electric savings of $1,658,855, meaning the project would pay for itself in 8.9 years.
In 12 months, the arrays have totaled 4,566 hours of operation and reduced the campus’ annual electric bill of $246,181 by more than $40,000.
While the majority of the solar arrays are on the roofs, out of sight, there will be smaller arrays incorporated into 10 picnic table/shade structures across the campus.
“They generate about 1 kW and have charging stations for electronics,” Goshorn said. “Students said they wanted more outdoor space, so this was a good way to do that. This has been a fun project.”
Arcelia Isais-Gastelum, the organizer of Environment New Mexico, applauded UNM-Valencia as being “a local and statewide leader in renewable energy.
“They have demonstrated that it’s possible to utilize our abundant solar resource for the mutual benefit of ourselves, our planet and our economy,” Isais-Gastelum said in a recent press release. “As the second sunniest state, New Mexico is in a key position to follow the campus’ example and become a national leader in clean, renewable energy.”
Environment New Mexico is a citizen-based environmental advocacy project of Environment America.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.