Entrepeneur sees solar potential in Tucumcari

QCSun Staff

At their Nov. 11 meeting, city commissioners unanimously agreed to back an engineer’s effort to secure a loan for a prototype solar energy conversion system to help power the Tucumcari Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Robert Hockaday, engineer and president of Energy Related Devices, is seeking a $550,000 bank loan to fund the project.

The letter of support states that the city is willing to lease its land east of the treatment plant in exchange for a two-cent-per-kilowatt-hour return from energy produced by Hockaday’s system. Energy Related Devices will sell the solar energy to Xcel Energy and will pay the waste water treatment plant $525 per month for the use of its land. The solar energy will supplement the waste water plant’s electricity usage.

“This will be equivalent to reducing the electric rate by 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour on the power produced by the photovoltaic array to the plant with a rent payment,” Hockaday’s price estimate summary states.

Hockaday’s trademark BlackTip Solar Power System features a panel that captures solar energy for conversion and mirrors on either side of the panel. The mirrors are designed to increase solar panel concentration, cool the panels and protect the panel units from uplift by strong winds. The panels track the sun, moving throughout the day to maximize solar concentration. The proposed system would be the first of its kind.

“The idea is that we’re trying to prove that we can produce systems that are about 20 percent less expensive, which is really attractive to anybody that’s trying to put in solar farms,” Hockaday said by phone Tuesday.

Hockaday said his prototype system, if funded and built, would produce enough income to allow him to pay off the bank loan in 15 years. Hockaday said he expects to pay off the real estate portion of the loan within 10 years of starting the project. At that point, Hockaday said he would consider selling the solar power system to the city or a private investor, although he is not yet sure what the asking price would be. He said the photovoltaic system is projected to withstand 30 years of use.

“We can sort of gauge the endurance of the system at that point. We’ve got 10 years to figure out what the value of it is,” Hockaday said. “If we had carbon credits in place, suddenly the thing would be very valuable, because suddenly it offsets production of power from coal-powered power plants, so we could be collecting special incentives.”

Hockaday said his company is awaiting approval from Xcel Energy, which will require a full project demonstration known as a one-line diagram to be approved by a professional engineer and then sent to Xcel for approval. If Xcel approves the diagram, Hockaday will then be able to obtain a bank loan.

“We have to get through that hoop,” Hockaday said. “That’s the last step.”

At the commission meeting, Hockaday said he plans to mass produce the solar energy units in Tucumcari for sale to third parties. City commissioner Robert Lumpkin expressed optimism over the potential for Tucumcari to someday own the prototype system and host Energy Related Device’s manufacture of solar units.

“We’re located in a solar area. Clovis is also in a solar area. Let’s say Clovis became interested in our product, and they have all the hospitals over there with flat roofs, all the schools over there with flat roofs,” Lumpkin said. “There’s so many directions this can go.”

Hockaday said he is interested in setting up shop in Tucumcari because of the area’s low electric rates, potential for transportation and high graduation rate.

“If I may add in there, New Mexico is ranked second in the nation in solar potential, solar resources,” Lumpkin said. “Tucumcari is ranked high in New Mexico for a couple of reasons. We have really good sun, really clear skies from the wind, and we have relatively cool evening temperatures.”