Solar Powered Radio In New Mexico

KTAO A Leader In Solar Power

A New Mexico radio station is using sunshine to increase its listening audience tenfold… and in doing so has become the nation’s only radio station transmitting solely on solar power.

Thanks to its solar boost, KTAO-FM, located in the resort community of Taos, can now tap an additional audience in New Mexico’s capital of Sante Fe, said Brad Hockmeyer, the station’s owner and general manager.

solar power

The system uses 135 photovoltaic panels to collect the sun’s energy, then stores the power in a bank of batteries weighing 44,000 pounds. The batteries can hold more than five days’ worth of power to transmit the station’s signal. And a six-day stretch of sun-less weather is unheard of in Taos, Hockmeyer said.

The solar system was built on top of 10,800-foot Picuris Peak overlooking Taos, a town of about 4,000 in the mountains of northern New Mexico. By transmitting KTAO’s signal from such a high elevation, the station’s potential listening audience grew from 15,000 people to 150,000.

Getting electricity to the top of the mountain would have cost at least $300,000, Hockmeyer said, and would have required an eight-mile trench through an archaeologically rich area. So solar power became a cost-effective alternative.

“I didn’t consider alternative energy until I had to,” he said. “Conventional power ended up being too expensive, so this became the best way we could get it done.”Hockmeyer said he estimates the station will save $4,000 a year in electricity costs, making pay back on the $60,000 project very reasonable — especially considering the alternatives.

Since hooking up the system, Hockmeyer said he has been contacted by a number of radio station owners trying to find out if solar might be an option for their stations.

“I’d love to get people thinking solar,” he said. “The benefit that comes from just thinking of an alternative method — even if they can’t do it — is better than not even considering it.

“If this project gets them looking into the possibilities, maybe they’ll say, ‘Well, I can’t do it for my radio station, but I can do it for my hot water heater at my house or maybe I can do it to power part of my radio station.”

Earth Fact — The housing unit for KTAO’s new transmitter was built out of recycled tires and aluminum cans, then covered with adobe plaster to blend into the natural landscape.

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