BERNALILLO — Sandoval County is moving forward with allowing a second solar farm along Encino Road.

The commission unanimously approved a resolution Thursday to consider an industrial revenue bond that would go toward the Encino North solar farm, more than two years after the existing Encino solar site entered the picture.

“(Additional renewable energy’s) a goal in and of itself, but also an increased tax revenue in the form of PILT payments to the county,” County Manager Wayne Johnson told the Observer. “Right now, you have basically agricultural land with a very low tax assessment rate… This is a great way to bring in revenue to the county.”

PILT refers to payment in lieu of taxes, whereby a company agrees to a payment to a governmental entity instead of paying taxes.

Rob Burpo, president of First American Financial Advisors, told the board the Encino North site will be 494 acres with an estimated cost of $50 million and that PNM utility will be the initial purchaser under a power purchase agreement.

Burpo also told the board solar farms are designed to generate lower consumer rates.

The commission previously approved an industrial revenue bond worth up to $70 million in 2019 to finance construction of the first facility. The existing solar farm, about 9.3 miles northwest of Unser Boulevard and Paseo del Volcan, generates a $100,000 PILT each year. The Encino North site will be just north of the existing site.

Johnson told the Observer the county can officially launch negotiations on the IRB terms for the Encino North Solar Farm.

He also said it’s possible the new farm can bring 150-200 new construction jobs in the process.

“The way IRBs work is that the property during the term of the IRB is actually owned by the county, which is where the tax abatement comes from, which is why you negotiate the PILTs,” Johnson said. “That’s significant money over time, but it allows these projects to work over time.”

The Encino North solar farm would be developed by New Mexico Renewable Development, a venture between PNM and American Electric Power. The project will feature up to 50 megawatts of generating capacity.

“The county’s goal is relatively simple in this case: We now have higher revenue than we ever would’ve gotten from the land had it not been developed for any other purpose,” Johnson said.

The amount of revenue from the new project is still to be determined.

Sandoval County will get about two-thirds of the PILT from the new solar farm. About 33 percent of PILT funding for the new project will go to five area school districts: Rio Rancho Public Schools, Bernalillo Public Schools, Jemez Valley Public Schools, Cuba Independent Schools and Albuquerque Public Schools (because of places like Corrales Elementary School, Burpo noted).

Johnson told the Observer there was a change in the law pertaining to PILT distributions during the last legislative session to require that money to be divided equally among those school districts. Johnson said that prior to the change, only Jemez Valley Public Schools benefited from the 2019 solar farm project.

Construction for the Encino North solar farm project is expected to commence in spring 2022, with power production getting underway in June 2023.

About the author

Matt Hollinshead | Staff writer