Using the sun to save Alamogordo money, Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport has installed solar energy cells that will feed energy back to the state power grid.
An 8 kilowatt array now gathers solar energy at the airport and is connected to PNM's energy system.
"That is probably enough to run two small mansions," said airport manager Parker Bradley.
The arrangement will save Alamogordo $400 to $500 a month in electric costs, Bradley said.
Running runway lights, the airport beacon and air conditioning at the city-run facility normally costs the city $30,000 a year, he said.
"The grid-tie system essentially slows the meter down," Bradley said.
The project was possible with a $100,000 grant from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department that went to the development of the solar photovoltaic array. Sacred Power, out of Albuquerque, came in with the lowest bid to take care of installing the system. They were finished with the construction and assembly of the system on Nov. 25.
"The structure had to be designed to survive 100-mile an hour winds," Bradley said. "That includes the posts, panels and mounting hardware."
The grant required an educational component, and the airport brought in a class from New Mexico State University-Alamogordo for a daylong seminar consisting of a hands-on opportunity to reassemble some of the components of the system that had been taken apart to help teach them.
More education projects with the
"This is the first airport in New Mexico to do anything like this," said Frank Andozola with PNM.
Jody Karp, a product manager in the solar photovoltaic program at PNM, said the solar cell installation is becoming more common. Last year PNM confirmed 88 solar hook-ups to the grid and this year, which isn't over yet, there have been close to 180.
"So hook-ups are obviously increasing," Karp said. "The feds have taken off the cap on tax benefits so we expect even more people putting these things in."
Professor Ron Offley taught chemistry for 15 years at NMSU-A and took his alternative energy class to the mini-seminar with Sacred Power on Dec. 2.
"They gave a little class in the morning for me and six of my students," he said. "Then we tore apart electronics and tested them."
Sacred Power does solar power work all over the state, and many of their projects are government run, Offley said. For example, he said, they installed the solar hot water system at High Rolls Elementary School.
Being out at the site made a big difference to the students, he said.
"It was a real professional doing it, not just educators," Offley said.
Photovoltaic is kind of expensive, Offley said. Parker talked to the students for a little while about how money is obtained through grants, Offley said.
Parker has a dream that eventually the whole airport can run on solar energy.
"We are hoping to get more (grants) to allow the airport to run on its own power," he said.