Shiprock Site

The proposed site of Shiprock Solar, a planned 372-MW solar array, with the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in the distance. 

A Utah subsidiary of French solar developer Photosol plans to invest $680 million in the development of a 372-MW solar array near the site of northwestern New Mexico's 847-MW coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, which is set to close in 2022.

Principals of Photosol U.S. of Lehi, Utah, told participants in a May 27 webinar that the Shiprock Solar Project would likely be operational in late 2023 or early 2024, and might also include a battery energy storage system. The company has not yet secured an offtaker for the generation, but is actively marketing the power to utilities, municipalities and other potential buyers, Photosol U.S. CEO Josh Case said.

The project would be located on 1,980 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land and 555 acres of privately owned land adjacent to the San Juan Mine that currently feeds the nearby plant. It is not clear whether the proposed project would interfere with Enchant Energy's carbon capture, utilization and sequestration plan for the plant (see CEM No. 1588).

While not part of a federally approved solar energy zone, the land is in a variance region that meets BLM qualifications for prime solar generation, including the presence of excellent solar resources, access to transmission, suitable topography and the fact that the land is already heavily disturbed, Mike Fitzgerald, a consultant with Ecosphere Environmental Services, said on the webinar. If BLM grants the right of way, the project will advance to the agency's National Environmental Policy Act process. A lot of the work already completed can be used during the NEPA phase, Fitzgerald said.

Shiprock Solar's main interconnection point would be a Western Area Power Administration substation less than a mile west of the proposed facility, Photosol engineer Thaer Flieh said during the webinar. A nearby Public Service Company of New Mexico substation associated with transmission resources at the San Juan plant is an alternative connection point. A 186-MW/744-MWh battery system would likely be housed adjacent to the 1.3-million panel array, making clean, affordable, dispatchable energy a reality, Flieh said during his presentation, though he noted later that the battery size could change depending on procurement.

"Photosol is excited to move forward with the BLM process and the securing of a power purchase agreement for the Shiprock Solar project," Case said in an email. The area's skilled labor force will benefit from hundreds of direct and indirect jobs during construction, with a limited number of permanent jobs in operation and maintenance. The project will also support the beleaguered region's tax base, which has been a concern as the community anticipates PNM's retirement of San Juan in 2022 and the closure of Arizona Public Service's nearby Four Corners Power Plant, also coal-fired, by 2031.

Case said during the webinar that he believes New Mexico is an emerging solar state and that its adoption in 2019 of the Energy Transition Act, intended to make electricity generation in New Mexico carbon-free by 2050, supports increased solar development there.

Staff Writer

Abigail Sawyer grew up in northwestern New Mexico near two massive coal-fired power plants. She spent many hours gazing out the car window at transmission lines on family road trips across the Southwest and now reports on the region from San Francisco.