New Mexico's First Megawatt




The Bell Group, Albuquerque, NM On July 13, 2010, Affordable Solar Group (“Affordable Solar”), Albuquerque, NM, placed in service New Mexico’s first 1MW solar energy array for The Bell Group’s corporate headquarters and principal manufacturing and distribution facility comprising approximately 175,000 s.f. in Albuquerque.

Affordable Solar is a leading solar systems distributor, integrator and installer of residential, commercial and industrial solar energy systems (www.affordable-solar.com). Founded in 1998, Affordable Solar is principally owned and operated by its founder, Albuquerque resident David Hughes.

The Bell Group, founded by Saul Bell in 1944 and still operated by the Bell family, is one of the largest wholesale distributors in the U.S.

Affordable Solar generated the project proposal, designed the solar energy system, supplied all of the solar equipment and assembled the project implementation team. The project utilized 5040 solar modules manufactured by Schott Solar in their Albuquerque plant installed over a total six month period comprising of three months design/engineering/permitting and sourcing of materials and three months actual construction, testing and start-up.

The installation covers 5 acres of parking area and will produce over 1,600,000 kWh of clean, solar powered electricity annually -- enough to meet 80 percent of Bell’s total electricity requirements. Bell saves the current cost of purchasing this electricity from PNM, 6.5 cents per KwH which is expected to rise over time amplifying the benefit to Bell and sells all electricity generated by the system at 15 cents per kWh. The combined savings and rebate comprises about $344,000 annually and is used by Bell to achieve payback of the up-front investment and then as pure profit. The locally generated, clean energy will also avoid approximately 1,125 tons of CO2 emissions annually while the solar canopies will continue to provide shaded parking for employee and visitor vehicles under the hot New Mexico sun.

This solar project drew a significant number of jobs from the Albuquerque region by utilizing local manufacturers, contractors and subcontractors from various construction trades. Projects such as this are made possible not only by reliable technology and a capable team but also by currently available financial incentives for solar projects from the Public Service of New Mexico (PNM), the State of New Mexico and the federal government. This project was PNM’s first one involving a system of at least 1 MW and Affordable Solar coordinated all activities between Bell, City of Albuquerque, PNM, suppliers and the installation team.

Alan Bell, President-The Bell Group, Albuquerque, NM provided the following comments regarding this project:

Q: What were Bell's financial and non-financial motivations to consider and then buy a solar energy system?

Alan Bell: The financial drivers started with our concerns over future energy rate increases, particularly if Cap and Trade becomes a reality. We had been looking at solar for at least five years, but the cost per watt made the payback too long. A combination of lower cost per watt for the panels and federal, state and utility incentives made us take another look.
Based on Affordable Solar’s calculations, we estimated the payback would be 5 ½ to 7 years and made a positive decision based on these projections. Now, based on our actual experience to date, it looks like we will achieve full payback in 4 ½ years. From a non-financial perspective, we felt there would be a ‘halo effect’ with our customers as a result of our powering the company with renewable energy. The response from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive. We have embedded ‘Powered by the Sun’ in all of our marketing efforts, and regularly share updates on the success of the system with our customers.

Q: What were the principal reasons that you selected Affordable Solar for this project?

Alan Bell: Affordable Solar was willing to customize the system to our desires – for example it was important to us that we use Schott panels manufactured here in Albuquerque. They were completely transparent in sharing how they arrived at their cost and payback calculations, establishing a level of trust that made it possible for us to proceed with a multi-million dollar project with confidence – something lacking with other bidders. Affordable Solar did not give us the lowest bid, but they did come in on time and on budget, and did the job the way we wanted. Because we were unsure what would happen with the existing utility agreement, we set a very tight timeline to get the job up and commissioned. Affordable Solar met the schedule with a little room to spare. Part of the reason this happened is because Affordable Solar kept all the affected parties – the city, the utility, the subcontractors – and us fully informed as to their progress, all the time. There were no surprises.

Q: What specific financial returns were you projecting and how has your experience to date compared to projections?

Alan Bell: As mentioned above, we committed to the project expecting a 5 ½ to 7 year payback. The first pleasant surprise is Affordable Solar’s payback projections were based on very conservative generation calculations. The system output is running about 15% higher than the estimates they provided – a classic case of under-promising and over-delivering. In addition to the higher than expected generating capacity, we did not factor in the accelerated depreciation allowed under current rules, into our original estimates. As a result, it now appears the system will pay back in 4 ½ years.

Q: Are there any other factors about the project, Affordable Solar or results that would be interesting or useful to someone interested in doing business with Affordable Solar?

Alan Bell: Yes! In our particular case, we determined that the most practical location of our solar array was over our employee parking lot, therefore, an added and much appreciated benefit of the system is everyone working here has covered parking!

Want to see more? Check out Schott's Bell Megawatt case study!

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