By Maria Saporta
An historic contract was signed March 11 on that will bring the Southern Co. into the world of solar energy.
Southern Co. Chairman and CEO David Ratcliffe signed an agreement with Ted Turner to jointly acquire ownership of what will be one of the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic power plants.
The project was acquired and will be built by Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc., a publicly-held company that is the largest manufacturer of thin film solar modules.
The preliminary agreement between the Southern Co. and Turner Renewable Energy was announced in January, but details still needed to be worked out between the three entities.
When the plant comes online, the 30 megawatt project will be the first plant owned by the partnership and will supply power to about 9,000 homes.
The partnership is a novel one because the Southern Co., a major utility that has often been criticized for not embracing renewable energy, teamed up with Turner, an active environmentalist.
“Expanding the role renewables play in our energy mix is a priority for Southern Co.,” Ratcliffe said in a statement. “Renewables, along with new nuclear, increased energy efficiency, cleaner coal technology and additional natural gas, all will be crucial to meeting this nation’s growing energy demand.”
“It is great that large-scale solar photovoltaic power generation is becoming a reality in the United States,” Turner saidin a statement. “Southern Turner Renewable Energy is excited to develop and own this project, and we look forward to generating clean renewable energy in New Mexico.”
The Southern Turner Cimarron I Solar Project is next to Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico. First Solar is the contractor for both engineering, procurement and construction and operation and maintenance for the facility.
“The Cimarron I project is yet another example of First Solar’s capability to realize utility-scale solar projects,” said Rob Gillette, First Solar chief executive officer, in the press release.
Construction of the solar array will begin this month with completion and commercial operation expected by year end 2010. It will consist of approximately 500,000 2’x 4’ photovoltaic modules constructed with First Solar’s patented thin film semiconductor technology.
PV modules generate electricity directly from sunlight through an electronic process that occurs naturally in certain types of material, known as semiconductors. Solar energy frees electrons in these materials to travel through an electrical circuit, powering devices or sending electricity to the grid.
Electricity generated by the plant will serve a 25-year power purchase agreement with the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a not-for-profit wholesale power supplier to 44 electric cooperatives serving 1.4 million customers across Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. With the plant’s output covered by a long-term contract, the Cimarron I Solar Project is a natural fit with Southern Company’s overall business strategy and risk profile.
Turner Renewable Energy is wholly-owned by Ted Turner. Turner Enterprises, Inc. (TEI), a private company, manages the business interests, land holdings and investments of Ted Turner, including the oversight of two million acres in 12 states and in Argentina, and more than 50,000 bison head.
With 4.4 million customers and more than 42,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) is the premier energy company serving the Southeast. A leading U.S. producer of electricity, Southern Co. owns electric utilities in four states and a growing competitive generation company, as well as fiber optics and wireless communications.