Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, with a regional office in Denver, plans to expand its almost 20-year-old portfolio of clean energy into southern Lea County with the Tip Top Solar Energy Center by late 2022.
Denver-based employees of the company gathered at the Hobbs Public Library Wednesday, with a second meeting set for the Jal Community Center Thursday, to display project planning posters, provide factsheets and answer questions about the estimated $215 million project in Lea County.
“The Tip Top Solar Energy is a 220 megawatt solar facility that Invenergy is developing west of Jal,” said Julia Kimmerly, Invenergy’s senior manager of renewable development. “We’re currently in our development phase.”
The 1,300-plus acres of land Invenergy acquired for the project is near the intersection of N.M. 128 and Delaware Basin Road, about 21 miles west of Jal.
Development activities include solar assessment, environmental studies and interconnection studies. Construction, employing 300-400 personnel, is expected to begin about the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022.
“We’re currently targeting the end of 2021 to begin construction,” Kimmerly said. “There’s grade work, some road work that has to come first, then we go through our pile driving, foundation and racking. Finally, we put on the solar panels themselves. There’s a collection system that connects all the solar panels to each other. Then, that all gets brought together to connect into the existing electrical infrastructure.”
She said the company has a contract to provide the power to Western Farmers Electric Co-op, a conglomeration of more than two dozen local co-ops that includes Lea County Electric Co.
County Manager Mike Gallagher, also present at the gathering, said the industrial revenue bonds the county approved for the project benefits New Mexico Junior College, the Jal hospital district, the Jal school district and the county.
“The current property tax on that property has generated about $7,500 per year, total,” Gallagher said “The IRB terms call for a life of 30 years, with our agreement with Invenergy calling for about $800,000 a year, totaling a little more than $24 million.”
The agreement levels both the amount of payment in lieu of taxes and the amount received by each taxing entity annually.
“In terms of budgeting, I think it’s a really good approach so the taxing jurisdictions have a good level of certainty on what type of payment they should expect from Invenergy to offset their costs each year,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher pointed out, in compliance with the state’s IRB law, the Jal school district has approved the project, not just once but twice.
In addition, Gallagher noted a second advantage to having the solar project in its proposed location.
“We have a ton of commercial trucks and people going to work through that area. We have a good payment to the taxing jurisdictions each year. At the same time, it’s not a traffic-generating facility,” Gallagher said. “Most of the projects in Lea County that generate good dollars to taxing jurisdictions are typically high traffic generators. This isn’t. That’s generally less stress on roads. What better place to have it than in a high traffic area?”
Also present to gather information and help with answers were Lea County Treasurer Susan Marinovich and County Assessor Sharla Kennedy.
“This is very interesting. I really think it will be very beneficial for Jal. It will bring a lot more income on that piece of land that we wouldn’t normally get. It’s a win-win, I think,” Marinovich said.
Kennedy agreed, “I think it will be good for the schools and the other entities, the hospital, the junior college and the county. I think it will be great.”
Established first to supply power from natural gas in 2003, Invenergy expanded over the years to include renewable energy sites on four continents.
Invenergy currently supplies almost 25,000 megawatts of power from 99 wind projects, 29 solar projects, 11 natural gas projects and 13 storage projects.
The Tip Top Solar Energy Center’s 220 megawatts will supply enough electricity to power more than 65,600 homes per year.