ENMU board wants more info on solar project

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

Eastern New Mexico University regents tabled a solar energy agreement at their emergency meeting Friday in order to find a third party to evaluate the business sense of the agreement.

ENMU President Steven Gamble said he and Vice President of Business Affairs Scott Smart would start work to find a third party immediately.

Smart said under the agreement the university would lease 17 acres of land near Greyhound Arena to California-based solar company Solar Power Partners for 20 years to finance, own and operate a solar array. During that 20 years, the university would buy all of the power from the array at a fixed price, with an expected total savings of at least $700,000.

Solar Power Partners would sell its renewable energy credits to Xcel. At the end of the 20 years, the contract requires the company to return the land to its original condition, said Ryan Hamilton of SPP.

Under the agreement, the university would only pay for more than the energy if it terminated the agreement early, which Smart didn’t see happening, or if it hindered the operation of the array. SPP would be required to pay fees if it didn’t uphold its part of the agreement.

Hamilton said his company needed to advance on the contract before next year because applicable tax credits might expire in January, slowing down the project. He said the agreement allowed for modifications.

Jean Moore, the attorney representing ENMU, said the contract allowed for modification in the case of certain triggers, such as rule changes and Higher Education Department requirements. She said the contract was legally sufficient.

Regents Marshall Stinnett and Randy Harris said they wanted a third party to look over the agreement to make sure the business points were sound.

Harris said the project sounded good, but he didn’t have any expertise with power purchase agreements. Stinnett said the university needed to hurry with the third-party analysis, even at an increased cost, if SPP needed the contract done by the end of the year.