The West is dotted with forgotten, uninhabited towns that are relics of the past. But New Mexico is about to get a brand-new ghost town that could be part of a high-tech, green-energy future. What does that mean exactly? Here, a brief guide:

A new ghost town?
Yes. A technology company called Pegasus Global Holdings this week announced plans to build a 20-square-mile model of a small U.S. city that could host a population of 35,000. The fake town, called The Center, will have everything you'd expect in a typical American town — from highways to houses to commercial buildings. Everything that is, except the people. Instead, it will be used by scientists from state and federal labs, along with the military, to test renewable-energy innovations and other new technology.

What sort of experiments will scientists run here?
The Center will be a testing ground for everything from intelligent traffic systems to next-generation wireless networks and smart-grid cyber security systems. A solar energy company could use the facility to see how its panels do in, say, a house where the thermostat is set at 68 degrees, compared to one kept at 78 degrees, or how the technology fares on a shady lot compared to a sunny one. "The idea for The Center," says Pegasus CEO Bob Brumley, "was born out of our own company's challenges in trying to test new and emerging technologies beyond the confines of a sterile lab environment."

Is The Center unique?
It's certainly the first of its kind in the U.S. Cities have been built to test green technology before — but those projects, like an eco-friendly city under construction in Portugal, have been designed to accommodate residents as well as scientists.

Who's going to pay for this?
Pegasus plans to make back the money it's putting into the $200 million facility through fees paid by organizations that use it. And the government of New Mexico, which is contributing the land, expects the development to create 3,500 jobs in the surrounding area, and serve as a magnet for high-tech investment.

SourcesAssociated PressSF ChronicleNew Scientist (2)