NEW MEXICO SPOTLIGHT
A Place in the Sun
f a solar panel manufacturing cluster ever gets organized in the United States, it will likely be in Albuquerque, N.M. Several companies have operations in the area already, and a major new master planned development, Mesa del Sol, is actively recruiting solar panel production companies and other renewable energy players to its 12,900-acre (5,200-hectare) site on a mesa just south of Albuquerque's central business district.
Advent Solar broke ground in January on an 87,600-sq.-ft. (8,100-sq.-m.) research, development and manufacturing facility at Mesa del Sol, a development that eventually will have 18 million sq. ft. (1.6 million sq. m.) of industrial, office
The US$6-million building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and will use Advent's own solar panels for electricity generation. The company, whose solar panel technology was developed at nearby Sandia National Laboratories, found a warm welcome in New Mexico. Both U.S. senators and several other dignitaries attended the groundbreaking. Sen. Pete Domenici chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman is the ranking Democrat on the same committee. And Gov. Bill Richardson is a former Secretary of Energy, which puts the state in good stead as it builds a reputation for fostering renewable energy initiatives.
Several measures before the New Mexico legislature at press time would make the state even more attractive to users of renewable energy. These include a state investment tax credit that would complement the federal solar energy credit and a 5-percent renewable energy tax credit for manufacturers.
"Even before we got involved [with Mesa del Sol developer Forest City Covington], they had wanted to target the renewable energy industry, because there is so much growth there," says Rusty Schmit, president of Advent Solar. The state, too, has the solar energy industry in its sights. "New Mexico is more aggressive at attracting companies like ours than other states we looked at in the Southwest," he adds, "and the cost of doing business here is a bit better than in Arizona, for example." Schmit says he conducted a site comparison of Albuquerque and Tucson, Ariz., a few years ago for another company, and found business costs more favorable in New Mexico.
Still, any southwestern U.S. location might seem odd, given the industry's geographic markets. Schmit says much of his product is destined for Europe and that the only real solar panel industry cluster he would identify is in eastern Germany. With expansion plans already on the drawing board for the Mesa del Sol operation, he doesn't rule out locating a facility in Europe down the road.
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