The clean and plentiful sunshine of New Mexico is now producing electricity for some 9,000 homes as the Cimarron Solar Facility has begun commercial operation. At 30 megawatts, Cimarron is among the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic plants.
The facility is the first resulting from the partnership between Southern Company and Ted Turner and will supply power to the member electric cooperatives of Denver-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar, Inc., (NASDAQ: FSLR) developed and constructed the facility and will provide operation and maintenance services under a long-term contract.
“This is a key milestone for Southern Company as we steadily incorporate more renewables into our energy portfolio,” said Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO Tom Fanning. “Renewables, along with new nuclear, increased energy efficiency, 21st century coal technology and additional natural gas, all will be crucial to meeting this nation’s growing energy demand.”
Fanning also noted that New Mexico, with its abundant solar resources, was an ideal location to establish the company’s first commercial-scale solar operation.
The 364-acre plant site is located within the service territory of Tri-State member system Springer Electric Cooperative in Colfax County, N.M, and is adjacent to Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch.
Southern Company and Turner Renewable Energy acquired the project from First Solar in March 2010. Turner Renewable Energy is a wholly owned subsidiary of Turner Enterprises with a focus on development of commercial-scale solar projects.
“We are very excited to see this project completed and producing clean solar energy to power homes and businesses in New Mexico,” said Turner. “Large-scale solar generation is among the fastest growing energy sources in the world, and we’re pleased that we can be a part of that growth.”
Initially expected to go on line by the end of 2010, the facility was completed in eight months and began commercial operation in early December, nearly a month ahead of schedule. More than 300 workers were employed to construct the plant, which uses approximately 500,000 2’x 4’ advanced thin film photovoltaic modules manufactured by First Solar.
“The Cimarron Solar Facility demonstrates First Solar's capabilities in utility scale projects," said Frank De Rosa, First Solar Senior Vice President of Project Development, North America. “Integrating technology, manufacturing, project development and engineering, procurement and construction expertise enables First Solar to be a leader in sustainable energy development.”
Electricity generated by the plant will serve a 25-year power purchase agreement with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a not-for-profit wholesale power supplier to 44 electric cooperatives serving 1.5 million consumers across Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. The project further expands Tri-State’s focus on providing renewable generation for its members, as the association also announced late last year that its Kit Carson Windpower Project began commercial operation in eastern Colorado.
“The Cimarron Solar Facility is another example of our ability to harness and utilize the abundant natural resources that are available to us in the West,” said Ken Anderson, Tri-State’s executive vice president and general manager. “Working with our partners, we have made a significant technology investment in the rural communities we serve, while further diversifying Tri-State’s renewable resource mix.”