Are you ready to start generating
—JEFF RADFORD, Corrales Comment
Having decided to add photovoltaic panels for her 27 year old passive
solar home, Martha Cushing offered to share the installation process
step-by-step with Corrales Comment readers.
The owner-designed home is filled with features to maximize solar
gain, to direct sun-heated air where needed and to stabilize indoor
temperatures year around.
For nearly three decades, the home’s domestic hot water
for bathroom, laundry and kitchen use has come from ground-mounted
solar panels that employ a scientific principle known to every child:
black objects in the sun get really hot.
Earlier this year, Cushing decided to take the leap to solar electric.
She contacted the Albuquerque-based Direct Power and Water Corporation
in July; she began generating electricity for Public Service Company
of New Mexico’s (PNM) power grid in September.
One of the first steps was to provide the company with the previous
year’s PNM bills so that the home’s typical energy needs
could be calculated. Once the electricity usage was determined,
the number of photovoltaic panels needed to produce that was calculated.
The analysis by Chris Karsa of Direct Power and Water continued
with a comparison of electricity costs with and without the solar
cell panels. Running Cushing’s PNM meter backward with sun-generated
electricity would reduce her annual power bill from $977 to just
With state and federal tax incentives and PNM’s “net
metering” and “renewable energy credits” program,
Karsa projected the Cushing solar panels would pay for themselves
in approximately 12-15 years.
“And after the payback period,” Cushing said enthusiastically,
“you’re good until the sun stops shining… hello?”
She said she was convinced to install her photovoltaics after
she saw the system put in this spring by neighbors David and Sondra
Hammack. “What Sondra said sold me on the idea,” Cushing
recalled. “She said it was just the right thing to do.”
Cushing, recently retired from the U.S. Social Security Administration,
said her decision was based on “energy and environmental concerns,
social consciousness and economic incentives.”
She added: “We need to be good stewards of Mother Nature’s
abundance. And sunlight is very abundant in New Mexico.”
After he was contacted by Cushing, Karsa submitted a proposal
for a grid-tied (feeding into and backed up by PNM’s grid)
photovoltaic system producing an average of 13 kilowatt-hours daily.
“The PV equipment is state-of-the-art and you wouldn’t
notice any difference from a conventionally powered home,”
he wrote in his August 2 proposal. “There is no maintenance
required once the system has been installed (other than occasionally
cleaning of the module surface).
“PNM and local electric cooperatives allow its customers
to generate electricity and send it into the grid (existing utility
lines). In essence, as you generate more electricity than you consume,
the meter registers the difference by turning in the reverse direction.
This ‘net-metering’ permits customers to reduce their
monthly electric bills considerably, and at the same time provide
pollution free power.”
Karsa added, “For the calender year 2006-07, you will be
able to utilize a 30 percent ($2,000 cap) federal income tax credit
on installed PV and solar thermal systems. The state of New Mexico
provides an income credit of 30 percent of the price of the system,
or $7,000 cap for photovoltaic and solar thermal systems.”
On top of that, he explained, from March 1, 2006, PNM offers “grid-tied
customers a production incentive program (REC, Renewable Energy
Credits) to buy back all kilowatt-hours produced by their PV system
at a rate of 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. This rebate is in addition
to the net-metering that will already be in place.”
Karsa calculated that Cushing’s 13 kilowatt-hour production
would earn $350 in net-metering and $610 in renewable energy credits
in its first year of operation.
“Savings and rebates for the first 12 years (factoring in
the state income tax that can be carried over a 10 -year period,
the federal tax credit, and the 12-year contract with PNM for the
13 cent per kilowatt-hour buyback program) are approximately $20,500,”
Karsa explained. “As the price of electricity increases in
the future, then the payback period decreases.”
When Cushing was satisfied with the system design, she contacted
Davito Hammack, son of David and Sondra Hammack, who managed the
project for Direct Power and Water.
Cushing’s property, east of Corrales Road in the “bosque”
area, has lots of naturally growing cottonwood trees, so finding
the right location for a photovoltaic array was a little tricky.
Hammack employed a hand-held domed, tree-shadow mapping device
called a “Pathfinder” to determine the optimal location
in an open area to the west of the home.
Then a trench had to be dug from that spot to the home’s
PNM electricity meter so that electrical cable carrying power from
the solar panels could be buried.
Cushing said she was pleased that the trenching operation avoided
cutting crucial cottonwood tree roots, tunneling under them rather
than cutting through.
Shortly thereafter, short concrete pillars were poured as foundation
for the the frame that would hold the photovoltaic panels.
Days later, on August 18, Hammack fixed 14 panels capable of generating
180 watts each into place, wired them to the buried power cable
at a junction box… and the cells began to produce electricity.
As he was wiring the panels, Hammack reflected on the PNM program.
“The neat thing is you get paid at 13 cents a kilowatt-hour
even if you use that power yourself.” But it’s a good
deal for PNM, he said, “It’s a win-win situation because
PNM has virtually no capital investment, but yet they get to meet
their requirement for ‘green’ energy.”
A week or so later, following an electrical inspection, PNM officials
visited the site to certify it for net-metering and renewable energy
PNM’s Charlotte Otero-Goodwin explained at that time, September
8, “The benefit for her is that she is tied to the grid, and
when she’s generating more electricity than she’s using,
she’ll run her meter backward.”
She explained the home now has two electrical meters, the usual
one which can now run backward, and a second one that “measures
every kilowatt-hour that her system produces. That’s for PNM’s
new program that pays 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.”
As of September 2006, she said about 94 customers in PNM’s
service area were generating electricity for the company’s
distribution grid. “The majority of them are in Corrales,
Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and a few in the East Mountain area.”
Cushing was pleased that the solar array had been installed discreetly
in a manner that the PNM officials had not even seen it as they
drove onto her property. “I think that is encouraging for
people who might be afraid that solar panels have to be so big and
stand out so much.”
PNM Senior Engineer Robert Broderick stressed that point. “That’s
a great point for the general public to understand. People perceive
that photovoltaic technology takes all this room to produce a reasonable
amount of energy.
“Her system takes up some space, but compared to the overall
lot here, it’s only a small, postage-stamp on the lot.
“Her system is typically, about a 2.5 kilowatt system, and
that’s right in the middle range of the applications we’re
seeing. Cost is the biggest factor determining what size system
people install. Most people buy a system sized to meet their yearly
“Generally people don’t buy a system that will produce
more electricity than they will use. So generally we see 2.5 to
3 kilowatt systems for a typical residential home,” he explained.
Otero-Goodwin outlined PNM’s program of buying renewable energy
“We’re paying 13 cents per kilowatt-hour generated
for the fact that energy is ‘green’. We’re not
actually buying power… we’re buying “the greenness”
of it,” she explained.
PNM is required by State regulations to have 10 percent of its
retailed electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind
or solar by 2011. “We can meet that requirement in several
ways. We can build our own generation facilities, like we did with
out little plant in Algodones, or we can purchase renewable energy
from somebody else, like some wind farm, or we can buy these renewable
energy certificates, or credits from people.
“What we decided to do was buy credits from people like
Martha, who own renewable energy credits when they put in photovoltaic
“We can buy credits from her and use them to satisfy PNM’s
portfolio standards for ‘green’ energy.”
Otero-Goodwin said PNM is hooking up an average of three to four
homes a week for renewable energy credits.
She said PNM expects to be producing 18.7 million kilowatt-hours
of electricity from photovoltaic panels within 12 years.
Reprinted with permission from the Corrales Comment,
Monday, October 23, 2006. It is the fourth article in a series on
Recycling: keeping the “chips” straight
—ROBIN BRANDIN, BOARD MEMBER, PLACITAS RECYCLING
Placitas recyclers have been wondering lately just how many different
ways paper can be sliced and diced. Over the past months they have
seen kraft paper separated from newspaper, as distinguished from
mixed paper, and isolated from white paper. While it seems there
have been a lot of changes lately, they are actually part of a move
to simplify paper recycling. The first milestone was reached a few
months ago, when the vendor who receives the paper dropped off at
the Placitas Recycling Center agreed “what comes with the
newspaper stays with the newspaper.” This brought an end to
separating out the kraft paper inserts that were difficult for many
people to recognize.
Recently the vendor agreed to accept a proportion of mixed paper
with the newspaper, ending another separation requirement “with
a few exceptions: white office paper, brown paper bags, and ‘chipboard.’”
Chipboard, as the vendor calls it, is the noncorrugated cardboard
used for cereal boxes, beer and soda containers, paper towel rolls,
and other food and drug packaging. Chipboard still needs to be separated
from other paper, as well as from corrugated cardboard. In addition,
the center continues to prefer white office paper be separated from
other paper, and brown paper bags are recycled with corrugated cardboard.
The rest can be thrown together, provided that contaminants such
as tissues, paper towels, and waxed, coated, or laminated paper
are kept out.
The Placitas Recycling Center also accepts aluminum cans, polystyrene
peanuts, printer cartridges (laser and ink jet), and No. 1 and No.
2 plastic (look for the numbers inside the recycle logo on the bottom
of the container). Recyclers may notice a separate container at
the site for plastic bags. Those are being collected by students
at the Placitas Elementary School who are participating in the Wal-Mart
Kids Recycling Challenge. They are collecting all types and colors
of plastic bags except black.
One thing the center will not be accepting this year is old phone
books. “We have nowhere to take them,” explained Placitas
Recycling Association Board president Len Stephens. “If we
collected them, we would just have to dispose of them in the landfill,
and that’s not what the association is about. However, we
have heard that DEX will be collecting the old phone books in Albuquerque
between December 28 and February 17.”
The Placitas Recycling Center is on Highway 165 a quarter mile
east of Interstate 25 and is open every Saturday from 8:00 to 11:00
a.m. More information, visit www.placitasrecycling.com.