Ted Turner invests in large solar power plant

Media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, founder of CNN among other things, has taken the idea of star power to a new level. Turner’s 30 megawatt Cimarron Solar Facility—owned by Turner Renewable Energy and Southern Co. (NYSE: SO)—recently started providing power to customers of the Springer Electric Cooperative in Colfax County, N.M.

The 364-acre Cimarron Solar Facility is located in northern New Mexico, adjacent to Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch. Southern owns 90 percent of the project and Turner owns the remaining 10 percent.

The solar farm was developed by First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) and sold to Turner and Southern in March 2010, before construction began. According to a press release from Southern, construction on the facility—which consists of roughly 500,000 First Solar panels—was completed in eight months. The facility was brought online in early December, nearly a month ahead of schedule.

Southern spokesperson Steve Higgenbottom said, “This is the first large-scale project for Southern Company and the first for Turner.”

The solar farm is under a 25 year power-purchase agreement with the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a wholesale electric generator, which counts Springer among its members.

Southern is a power generator and utility primarily operating in the southeastern U.S. Its production portfolio includes nearly 3 percent of renewable energy, excluding hydroelectric generation, Higgenbottom said. The majority of the company’s power production is via coal plants (57 percent), with other significant portions coming from natural gas (23 percent) and nuclear (16 percent).

However, the company is interested in expanding its involvement in solar.

“We’ve researched solar for the past 20 years,” Higgenbottom said. The company, he explained, already has some demonstration projects in place. “We believe it [i.e., solar] should be part of our energy supply.”

The partnership forged with Turner’s company was developed to look at utility scale renewable energy projects.

“It’s particularly focused on the Southwest because it’s one of the most attractive areas for renewable energy,” he said.

Higgenbottom said Southern is still in partnership with Turner to explore future solar projects.

“We will certainly look at other opportunities,” he said. But he clarified that no other projects are announced, and the company doesn’t speculate on such future developments.

Image courtesy of First Solar.