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Affordable Solar Site Superintendent Eric Cannon looks over plans with Silver City Director of the Office of Sustainability Nick Sussillo during the initial stages of construction of the solar array that will soon power the town s waste water treatment plant. The array will save an estimated $4 million and use more than 4,000 solar panels to power the treatment plant s pump motors.

SILVER CITY — In the parking lot of the Silver City wastewater treatment plant is a truck with "Here comes the sun" printed on the side.

The truck belongs to Affordable Solar, Silver City's partner in an exciting project with hopes to reduce both the town's carbon footprint and budget. For the next few months, crews will build a photovoltaic solar array on the prepared stretch of ground next to the plant.

Through a unique, legislated financial arrangement called a "Power Purchase Agreement," the town is expected to save an estimated $3 million to $4 million over the next 20 years by using the power from the solar array to power the plant's pump motors.

According to Nick Sussillo, director of Silver City's Office of Sustainability, the town spends around $250,000 powering the treatment plant. With the new solar power project, they hope to decrease that number by quite a lot. Instead of paying PNM 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour — a price that climbs each year — like they do now, Silver City will purchase the energy from Affordable Electric at 6.9 cents per kilowatt hour with no price escalation for the duration of the 20 year contract.

Since municipalities don't pay taxes and can't get the tax rebates and tax credits for solar projects that a private solar developer can, it's possible through the Power Purchase Agreement for a private company to arrange the financing, install, own and maintain a solar photovoltaic array, and sell the power to the municipality at a rate cheaper than the current utility price.


Affordable Solar is the designer, builder, owner and maintainer of the treatment plant's solar system.

This plan did not happen over night.

Sussillo first heard about the Power Purchase Agreement in May 2010 when he made a trip to Santa Fe to discuss energy efficiency with the city of Santa Fe's Energy Specialist Nick Schiavo, now acting director of Housing and Community Development. Santa Fe had then signed a contract to purchase power form a third-party solar entity who would own and maintain the system. No money was invested by Santa Fe, but the city was planning to save millions.

Schiavo recommended Silver City give it a shot. Two and a half years later, it is coming to fruition. Affordable Solar will begin a similar project at the wastewater treatment plant in Deming soon.

"Unless we run into any obstacles, we should be operating completely by May 31," said Eric Cannon, Affordable Solar's site superintendent for the project. Cannon is down from Albuquerque for the job and brought with him his yellow labrador Riley, who walks the site with him in a florescent vest matching the workers. Cannon and his crews began work on Tuesday, and while they have a long way to go, they've made significant progress.

Already rising out of the worked earth are rows of 19-foot I-beams with mounts. On these, 4,000 panels will cover a six-acre plot of land just beside the treatment plant.

"It's going to look like a spaceship landed," said Sussillo. "I can't wait until Alex Brown (Silver City town manager) sees the bill from Affordable Solar for just 6.9 cents per kilowatt."

Benjamin Fisher can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5803.