ALBUQUERQUE — The state's largest electric utility is breaking ground on a 50-megawatt solar field that will provide power to Western New Mexico University, the city of Albuquerque and other large users that have signed on to a new program.

Officials gathered Thursday on the Jicarilla Apache Nation for a ceremony. As the third largest solar project on tribal land in the U.S., the array will be capable of producing enough electricity to power the equivalent of about 16,000 average homes for a year.

The project was approved earlier this year by the state Public Regulation Commission.

It’s part of Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s Solar Direct program, which allows large customers to subscribe to receive electricity matching their usage at a set price from the solar facility. Customers must commit to purchase the requested amount of electricity for 15 years. They'll receive a credit on their bills based on their subscription levels.

Any customers that use 2.5 megawatts or more are eligible for the program.

Utility officials say the program offers municipalities and others larger users a cost-effective way to meet their renewable energy goals.

Hecate Energy will build the solar plant and Public Service Company of New Mexico will enter into a long-term agreement to purchase the power. It will not count toward state mandated renewable energy requirements.

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