It should come as little surprise that the University of New Mexico-Taos branch holds the distinction of being the first campus in the nation completely powered by solar energy. Living in harmony with the land is in Taos’ genetic makeup.
Completed in July 2009, the solar array stands at the back of Klauer Campus against a backdrop of scrub brush and intense blue skies. Twenty seven hundred panels mounted on a tracking system line up at a 90-degree angle across three and a half acres and daily follow the sun from east to west to generate maximum solar power. At day’s end, when the fiery sun disappears behind Pedernal Mountain, the array resets to the east awaiting the next sunrise like an obedient sentinel.
“During peak hours, our system produces 500 kilowatts of power, more than enough to run the entire campus,” said Bill Knief, UNM-Taos Public Relations coordinator. “And we get nearly 300 sunny days a year, that’s plenty of sunlight to tap. The excess energy flows back into the grid, just like conventional electricity, but unlike conventional electricity that’s produced from coal, the sun’s energy creates a minimal impact on the environment.”
Knief said that solar technology is both new and old at the same time. “Taos Pueblo has been sustainable for over 800 years. When you lean against a wall in the winter you can feel the heat coming off the adobe. Adobe keeps the inside cool in the summer and maintains warmth in the winter. It’s all just a continuation, he said.”
UNM-Taos Executive Director, Kate O’Neill said, “The solar array symbolizes the campus’ energy independence from foreign oil and the toxic effects of carbon based fuels and shows a commitment to future generations.”
The array was built with support from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative CEO Luis Reyes applied for a zero percent federal grant to install several solar generation plants throughout northern New Mexico. Under the stewardship of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a five million dollar bond was awarded to Kit Carson Electric Cooperative.