Ted Turner Turning on His New Mexico Solar Plant

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CNN founder, and “Mouth of the South,” Ted Turner said this weekend at the World Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico, that his jointly owned, 30-MW solar farm in New Mexico is being turned on “right now.” The $100 million solar facility, which was built in partnership with Southern Company and is next to Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico, took about a year to build, and the duo has been looking to switch it on before the end of 2010.

Turner said about turning on the facility: “We’re pretty excited about it.” He explained his partnership with power company Southern Company, which owns 90 percent of the farm, while Turner owns 10 percent, that “I’ve experimented with getting on the inside and working with them rather than opposing them on things.” Southern Company is one of the larger users of coal in the U.S., while Turner is a long-time environmentalist.

The so-called Southern Turner Cimarron 1 Solar Project will sell the power over the next 30 years to local electrical COOP Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in New Mexico, said Turner, and the COOP will also provide the needed transmission lines. The project will use panels from First Solar (s FLSR), and First Solar will build the project.

If you remember a couple of years ago, Turner sold his solar developer company Turner Renewable Energy to First Solar for $34.3 million, in a combination of First Solar common stock and cash. The deal was a surprising early exit for the investor in the solar space back in 2007. The Cinmarron 1 project is the first deal to come out of a partnership between Turner Renewable Energy and Southern Company.

During Turner’s onstage interview in Cancun, Turner said he loved the solar panels he installed on his farm 25 years ago to electrify the fences so the bison wouldn’t get out, and he likes to go out and rub them (seriously, he said that). He also made the comparison between building solar plants and building coal plants:

Nobody’s been killed doing it, which is an important thing if you are a miner. No one went underground; it’s all on the surface of the desert.

True enough. Turner is also the largest private land owner in the U.S., and will be able to use his land as a place for solar farms.

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