New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced today that Chevron’s mining subsidiary Chevron Mining, Inc. will build a one megawatt concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) solar facility on the tailing site of their molybdenum mine in Questa, New Mexico. This demonstration project will be the largest concentrating solar photovoltaic installation in the U.S.
Concentrating photovoltaic systems uses lenses to concentrate sunlight on high efficiency cells which results on a higher overall efficiency and a smaller footprint. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, efficiencies of up to 40% are possible. This compares favorably with the efficiencies of the more common crystalline silicon (around 20-25% ) or thin film cadmium telluride cells (around 15%).
This installation will be built by Chevron Technology Ventures. CTV serves as one of Chevron’s technology “scouts,” always searching for emerging technologies that could enhance the company’s strategies. “CTV identifies, acquires, tests, validates, and – if appropriate – helps integrate those technologies into the company’s core businesses. Alternatively, technologies may be studied then “shelved” for future consideration.”
The 175 concentrating solar panels, which were developed by Concentrix Solar of Freiburg, Germany will occupy twenty acres of reclaimed land.
In his announcement, Gov. Richardson said of the project, “Locating renewable energy projects on impacted lands is a great way to redevelop the land. I’m pleased that Questa – and Chevron Mining and Chevron Technology – will contribute to New Mexico’s solar energy production and help us build a strong clean energy economy. This makes economic and environmental sense.”
A number of mining sites around Questa have experienced subsidence impacts, a sinking of the land as the result of underground mining operations (photo). The runoff from the mine will likely require perpetual water treatment.
Molybdenum mines have a history of environmental issues particularly because of their impact on water. The Thompson Creek Mine, just above the Salmon River in Idaho has been particularly controversial.
“Chevron’s demonstration solar project converts a contaminated property into a productive site that will benefit from the green energy it produces,” stated Ron Curry, Cabinet Secretary for New Mexico Environment Department. “We look forward to working with Chevron on this project to ensure there are no adverse impacts to human health, wildlife and the environment.”
Electric power generated by the plant which received support from the US EPA, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the New Mexico Environment Department will be sold to the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative under a purchase power agreement. New Mexico provides a renewable energy production tax credit of 2.7 cents per kWh, one of the most generous in the nation. Any solar plant of one MW or greater is eligible.
This announcement demonstrates an effort by Chevron to reclaim not only the land surrounding the Questa mine, but also their reputation with respect to the environment. The company has been embroiled in a sixteen year, multi-billion dollar litigation answering charges of systematic pollution and despoliation of lands in the Ecuadorian Amazon.