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Jemez Tribe of New Mexico to Build 14,850 Solar Panel, $22 Million Solar Power System

In New Mexico, the 3,000-member Jemez tribe of Native Americans is planning the nation’s first utility-scale solar project on tribal land.

For residents of New Mexico, it represents a future of cleaner energy. Most of the state is now powered by Colorado-based Tri-State Generation, whose generation mix includes approximately 70 percent coal, 24 percent natural gas and 5 percent oil.

Other utilities include Arizona Public Service (APS), which operates Units 1, 2 and 3 of the notoriously pollutive Four Corners (2,040-megawatt) coal-fired plant in Fruitland. Units 4 and 5 are jointly operated by APS, Southern California Edison, El Paso Electric, PNM, Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power.

The Four Corners power plant escaped regulation from 1960 to 2007, when the Sierra Club finally forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set air pollution standards. Unfortunately, a November 2009 report by Environment New Mexico showed that the Four Corners plant is still the dirtiest power plant in the state, based on greenhouse gas emissions.

By providing clean, renewable solar electricity to supplant some of this “brown” energy, the Jemez tribe is helping both itself and its neighbors to breathe a little easier. The solar farm will also bring in some badly needed dollars, to a tribe that does not operate casinos or other wealth-building modules because of its distance from population centers.

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