How Kit Carson Electric has worked with Taos and other pueblos to develop solar + storage
by Allen Best
The Picuris Pueblo of northern New Mexico is a place of contrast. There has been a studied attempt to preserve the past, so you can still look at adobe houses and dirt streets and wonder if they have running water.
But the Picuris, while embracing that past, have also worked with Kit Carson Electric, the local cooperative, to install 10 megawatts of solar. And there are plans for more, this time a megawatt of solar combined with a megawatt of battery storage.
Northern New Mexico has an exquisite contrast of the old and the new.
Luis Reyes Jr., the chief executive of Kit Carson, confirmed my observation when I talked with him after a recent announcement of another agreement, this time with the Taos Pueblo
“In the pueblo itself there is no electricity, but you have all the adobe homes,” he said of the Picuris. “Outside of the Pueblo you have a gigabyte of broadband service, and down the road a megawatt of solar. We have been able to integrate the new with the traditional ancestral ways of life,” he says.
That also speaks to the deliberate but methodical approach taken by Kit Carson in its effort to pivot its energy systems.
“We will take as long as it takes to get to a win-win solution,” he said.
Reyes set out to create partnerships with the Taos and Picuris pueblos in 2008. In 2016, Kit Carson left its wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Guzman Energy, its new wholesale supplier, had agreed to help Kit Carson develop its local solar capacity. Kit Carson achieved a key goal in summer 2022 when it had installed enough photovoltaic capacity to meet peak day-time demands for Taos and other communities.
Helping Kit Carson achieve that goal were the 10 megawatts of solar installed on Picuris land.
Now, Kit Carson has an agreement with the Taos Pueblo, which is located on the edge of the town of the same name. The plans call for 5 megawatts of solar photovoltaics and 10 megawatt-hours of battery storage.
How this will get financed will be the key task of ICAST—it stands for International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology. Federal funding available through the Inflation Reduction Act may come into play. Reyes projects that construction will start in spring 2024.
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The Taos Pueblo will own the energy system, earning income for the pueblo for the 25-year term of the project. The power will be roughly enough for 1,500 homes in the Kit Carson Electric service territory. The battery storage will allow Kit Carson to provide low-cost power during peak load times, such as during winter nights or those rare but problematic extended days of cloud cover.
Reyes said that it takes time to work with the pueblos, to understand their processes, which he describes as “very deliberate and very thoughtful. They want to make sure that anything is in the best interests of tribal members while preserving their culture. They were probably the first environmentalists. They understand the value of taking care of the land and the water.”
Once the interconnection studies are completed, a power-purchase agreement will be negotiated.
“We are giving them opportunities to enable tribal independence, if they want—and at what level,” says Reyes. “It may be some revenue streams that are tied to helping the pueblos with some of the needs they have, such as affordable housing or economic development. This relationship with Taos (pueblo) is more than just energy. It is self-determination.”
s Kit Carson moves into deeper decarbonization, storage needs loom higher. All major solar must come with storage.
The cooperative is also working with the Department of Energy on a different storage concept, that of green hydrogen at the site of the former molybdenum mine at Questa. Reyes feels comfortable sharing very few of the details.
But the need is gaping. Kit Carson must figure out how to continue to meet demand with its renewables during a winter storm that lasts three days. “We can’t afford to buy 60 megawatt-hours of batteries,” he says.
In Colorado and elsewhere, concerns have been expressed about the risk of hydrogen, whether green or blue or brown, not being contained and hence polluting the atmosphere. Reyes says he doesn’t discount such risks, but insists that efforts must be continued to explore emerging technologies, address the risks and bring the costs down.
Top: a church at the Taos Pueblo, 2019 photo/Allen Best
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