New Mexico’s four largest electricity providers have partnered to bring the first large-scale, commercial solar generating plant to the state.

El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy, PNM, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association today jointly issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking detailed proposals from solar developers for the construction of a solar parabolic trough generation facility to provide solar electricity to each of the utilities by 2012.

The RFP outlines several requirements that a successful bid would have to meet, which include:

  • The facility must be located within New Mexico.
  • The facility must use parabolic trough technology.
  • Thermal energy storage is encouraged.
  • The facility must be able to deliver between 211,000 and 375,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) per year (enough to power between 29,000 and 52,000 average New Mexico homes).

“Each of the utilities has shown tremendous leadership by coming together as partners for renewable energy,” said Pat Vincent, PNM Utilities president. “The four of us directly or indirectly provide electricity to almost every customer in the state.”

The RFP follows a feasibility study commissioned by the utilities last year. The study, performed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), found that the most feasible solar technology currently available for a large-scale New Mexico plant is parabolic trough. This technology utilizes a series of trough-shaped mirrors to focus sunlight onto an oil-filled tube, and then uses the hot oil to generate steam. The steam is used to turn a generator, producing electricity. When combined with thermal energy storage, this solar technology is capable of generating electricity at night, as well as during cloudy periods.

If a viable project emerges from the RFP process, the utility partners expect to have a contract negotiated by the end of 2008, and energy from the project could be serving New Mexico customers by the end of 2011 pending regulatory approvals.