Ted Turner builds solar project on parking lot next to his building

By Maria Saporta
Friday, December 10, 2010

One of the most highly sought-after parking lots in downtown Atlanta is being turned into a solar energy demonstration project.

Ted Turner, one of Atlanta’s most notable business and philanthropic leaders, has built-out the first phase of the “Luckie Street Solar Project” on a 2-acre parking lot he owns adjacent to Turner’s headquarters, formerly known as the Bona Allen building.

The building houses Turner Enterprises, the Turner Foundation, Ted Turner’s penthouse (which serves as his Atlanta residence) and Ted’s Montana Grill restaurant as well as the restaurant chain’s headquarters.

“I wanted to do something solar right here in Atlanta as a demonstration project,” Turner said in an interview Dec. 6. “It is an experiment and demonstration project. When the whole thing gets done, it’s going to power the building and the restaurant.”

Walking along the parking lot, which is across Luckie Street from the Tabernacle performance venue, 14 large canopies of solar panels cover the asphalt parking lot in the first phase of the project.

The solar panels in Phase I are manufactured by First Solar, a company that Turner has been working with on another joint venture. The second phase of the project, which will have 11 canopies of solar panels, will use the technology of Atlanta-based Suniva Inc.

Turner was especially proud that he was able to install all the solar panels and not cut down any trees or even tree limbs on the site.

Plus, the installation only took up a couple of the lot’s parking spaces. The solar project also will be able to provide the power for the recharging of electric cars parked in the lot.

“In the summer time, the cars get to park in the shade,” Turner said. “It’s using the sun, and that’s free. It helps us with our power.”

Turner did say that he had explored putting the panels on the roof of the Bona Allen building, but there was not enough structural support.

The total project is expected to cost about $1 million, not including the value of the land. The solar panels also will minimize the heat-island effect of the parking lot.

The parking lot, which fronts along Centennial Olympic Park Drive overlooking the park, has been mentioned as a possible site for several development projects. It was the preferred site for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which eventually went to Charlotte, N.C.

Turner, however, has not been receptive to those development ideas, and he is not one to sell or give away land.

“It’s not Ted’s intention to develop the property at this time,” said Taylor Glover, president of Turner Enterprises. “That’s why he put the solar panels there.”

Glover remembered when Turner brought up the idea at one of their office meetings of turning the parking lot into a solar demonstration project. “He wanted to prove the capability and set an example that it can be done.”

Turner Enterprises will be collecting data on the solar output of the panels to learn more about the possibilities of using solar energy in the South.

When completed, the total solar capacity of the project will be nearly 200 kilowatt hours. Georgia Power Co. has said that this project is the largest solar project that’s been installed in downtown Atlanta.

It also could become a tourist attraction in its own right. The route of the Atlanta Streetcar project, which recently received a $47.6 million federal grant, will travel along three bordering streets of the parking lot.

Turner officials estimate the project will mean that 82 metric tons of CO2 emissions will not be going into the atmosphere ever year, the equivalent of 9,209 gallons of gasoline. It also equals the amount of carbon removed annually from the air by 17.5 acres of pine forest.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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