New Mexico firms to provide solar for Facebook data center

By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The state's largest electric provider has teamed up with two local solar companies to help social media giant Facebook make good on its commitment to power the massive data center under construction in the New Mexico desert with 100 percent renewable energy.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is surrounded by state lawmakers and local elected officials as she talks about the economic impact of a $37 million contract to install solar panels to power Facebook's new data center during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. New Mexico's largest electric utility is investing a total of $45 million in the 30-megawatt solar project, with most of that going to Albuquerque-based Affordable Solar for the installation of tens of thousands of panels. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state's largest electric provider has teamed up with two local solar companies to help social media giant Facebook make good on its commitment to power the massive data center under construction in the New Mexico desert with 100 percent renewable energy.

Gov. Susana Martinez, officials with Public Service Co. of New Mexico and economic development leaders gathered Wednesday at the headquarters of Affordable Solar in Albuquerque to announce a $45 million solar project.

Most of the money will go to Affordable Solar for the installation. New Mexico-based Array Technologies will provide the tracking systems for the panels.

The bidding process for the 30-megawatt project spurred international competition.

Martinez told the crowd that efforts to build a predictable business environment over the last few years are what attracted Facebook to the state and the ripple effects on the economy are starting to show.

Aside from Facebook's quarter-billion-dollar investment for the first phase of the data center, the electric utility's investment in the solar project is expected to net more economic activity as well as over 40 full-time positions at Affordable Solar alone.

Company officials and others said Wednesday that the project would not have been possible without local economic development funding and job training assistance through the state.

"It's more important than ever before that we keep fighting for the tools and reforms that are helping us bring more jobs and investment to New Mexico," the governor said. "We have to make sure the Legislature knows that the New Mexico business community wants these tools in our toolbox so that we can continue to bring these kinds of jobs."

New Mexico currently has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Construction of the data center is among the few economic bright spots for New Mexico, which has struggled over many years to curb reliance on the federal government and the oil and gas industry.

Martinez argues that is changing and New Mexico is starting to get noticed.

With limited revenues due mostly to the downturn in the energy sector, Martinez is locked in a political battle with Democratic lawmakers over how much money should be spent on programs and tax incentives aimed at bolstering economic development.

The solar power plant that will help run Facebook's data center will be made up of three 10-megawatt sites featuring tens of thousands of panels. The first solar site will be adjacent to the data center; construction will start later this year.

Each solar site is expected to generate between 50 and 100 construction jobs, officials said.

The utility plans to add more solar and wind as the data center grows.

Pat Vincent-Collawn, chairwoman, president and chief executive of PNM Resources, said the utility already has invested nearly $270 million in solar farms across the state in recent years and the new sites will add to its renewable energy footprint.

"This project clearly demonstrates some of the best possible outcomes of an economic development project: supporting a local renewable energy business, creating local construction jobs and helping to grow our economy here in New Mexico," she said.

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