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USDA program helps ag, rural businesses with solar installations

A veterinary clinic in Pennsylvania that used 105 solar panels to convert to a solar energy system in 2010 is one example of a project that received U.S. Department of Agriculture funding. U.S. Department of Agriculture photo by Lance Cheung. (Submitted Photo)

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Agricultural producers or small businesses located in rural areas of Chaves County could qualify for funding assistance for a solar energy system.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) offers grants and loan programs that could pay some of the costs of installing solar panels or other types of renewable energy systems, according to the USDA website.

A representative for one of the contracting firms that installs solar energy systems in the area will talk to business and government leaders about the USDA program and her company’s work.

Lauren Komnick, director of marketing for the New Mexico Solar Group, said the company began doing business in Roswell earlier this year. She is scheduled to present information April 4 at a 4 p.m. meeting at the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. offices.

Komnick said that New Mexico Solar Group, an employee-owned company, has been operating in New Mexico since 2014 and has chosen Roswell as its current base for southeast New Mexico operations, which includes nearby counties and cities.

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The company has hired about five people since the start of the year and plans to employ up to 20 to 30 installers, project managers and sales people hired from the local area within a year or two. With its other offices in Albuquerque, Alamogordo and Las Cruces, the group has 65 employees, she said.

“We are really trying to find the workforce within the community,” she said. “We do on-the-job training.”

The company services both residential and commercial customers and will provide roofing work as well if people are concerned about the ability of their roofs to hold solar panels. Panels also can be mounted on the ground or incorporated into carports.

Komnick said that solar systems typically cost a lot less than other utilities over the long term, once the solar installations are paid for, while some customers find that they can save money right away, paying less for their financing payments for the system than for their monthly utility bills.

“We are not looking to take away from any of the current, existing infrastructure,” she said. “We are just looking to give people the opportunity to diversify their resources if they want to.”

She said that many people still think that solar systems are costly and difficult to maintain, but she contends that solar systems have become much more affordable and much sturdier and easier to maintain.

“Those are the big two things we come across, with people saying it is new technology, when in actuality solar has been around for a couple of decades now and technology has really evolved to a really efficient point,” she said.

U.S. solar installations have grown from 1.2 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 64 gigawatts today, according to the Solar Energies Industries Association. That’s enough energy to power about 12 million U.S. homes. In 2018, 10.6 gigawatts were added.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.