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Soaking up the sun

NMSU unveils Aggie Power solar project

A once-vacant lot of undeveloped land on the southern-most end of NMSU’s Arrowhead Park is now the site of the university’s largest source of renewable energy. It houses an installation of 10,000 solar panels known as Aggie Power.

As NMSU’s most ambitious renewable energy project to date, Aggie Power will generate enough solar electricity to power about half of the university’s 900-acre Las Cruces campus and serve as a living laboratory for NMSU students and faculty in electrical engineering.

Aggie Power was born out of a collaboration between NMSU and El Paso Electric to advance mutual goals on renewable energy, climate action and micro-grid development. In 2018, NMSU and EPE entered into a memorandum of understanding that cemented their partnership and outlined the details of what would become Aggie Power. 

After a rigorous review and approval process by the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission, NMSU and EPE signed the final rate agreement and land-lease documents, allowing construction on Aggie Power to begin in December 2020. 

But several pandemic-related delays slowed the project throughout 2021.  

The site – which consists of a three-megawatt solar photovoltaic array and a one-megawatt/four-megawatt-hour battery energy storage system – underwent a two-month testing phase soon after construction wrapped up at the end of 2021. The project’s contractor, Affordable Solar of Albuquerque, performed final performance and capacity testing before the site began supplying power into NMSU’s electrical grid through a central energy hub by April 2022.

Under the agreements, EPE will operate Aggie Power for the next 30 years, and NMSU has agreed to buy power generated from the facility over that period.

“NMSU is excited with our strategic partnership with EPE. These partnerships are critical to our goals to support a balanced and sustainable energy economy within and external to the NMSU system,” NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu says. “Our partnership with EPE moves us forward in a leadership role and is a perfect example of our ability to balance investments in infrastructure while providing a state-of-the-art living laboratory to complement our educational programs.”

Arvizu led a ribbon-cutting celebration for Aggie Power in September 2021.

Wayne Savage, executive director of Arrowhead Park, says research operations at Aggie Power will likely get underway by the fall 2022 semester after an NMSU committee identifies educational priorities. Savage oversaw the development of Aggie Power for NMSU.

Savage says the site also features a microwave link that transmits real-time data to a receiver atop Tortugas “A” Mountain.

“That link is connected to our campus network,” Savage says, “and we will receive real-time operating data in terms of output and other parameters that will be a baseline for research operations that will take place.”

Aggie Power is one of several solar power projects on NMSU’s Las Cruces campus and one of three energy sources powering facilities across the campus. 

Savage says the project aligns with NMSU’s long-term commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. NMSU has joined international efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050. The university has decreased its carbon emissions by 61 percent since 2007, according to Second Nature and the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute, which track carbon emissions of entities that have signed the Race to Zero global initiative. 

“Aggie Power will help us achieve our carbon goals,” Savage says. “We are one of a growing number of university campuses in the country that are choosing to be powered by renewable energy.”

Savage says future plans for Aggie Power will center on evolving research endeavors. While there is no land to expand the installation, he hopes it inspires other renewable energy projects throughout the NMSU system.

“Eventually, I’d like to see more electric vehicle chargers and other renewable energy systems on our campus,” he says.

Aggie Power will generate enough clean electricity to power about half of NMSU’s 900-acre Las Cruces campus and serve as a state-of-the-art living laboratory for NMSU faculty and students.
NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu (left) and El Paso Electric President and CEO Kelly Tomblin participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Aggie Power in September 2021. Aggie Power is a collaboration between NMSU and El Paso Electric to advance mutual goals on renewable energy, climate action and micro-grid development.
NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu and El Paso Electric CEO and President Kelly Tomblin, along with other dignitaries, cut the ribbon on the new Aggie Power Solar Array in September 2021.