2 February 2011

First Solar-built Cimarron Solar Facility starts commercial operation

The Cimarron Solar Facility in northern New Mexico has begun commercial operation. At 30MW, Cimarron is among the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic plants.

First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA, which makes thin-film photovoltaic modules based on cadmium telluride (CdTe), developed and constructed the facility. The firm sold the project last March to Southern Company and Turner Renewable Energy (a subsidiary of Turner Enterprises Inc with a focus on the development of commercial-scale solar projects), but will provide operation and maintenance services under a long-term contract.

The facility is the first resulting from the partnership between Atlanta-based Southern Company (the premier energy company serving the southeast USA) and Ted Turner. Using about 500,000 2’x 4’ photovoltaic modules, the facility will supply power to about 9000 homes (or 18,000 residents) via the member electric cooperatives of Denver-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, displacing more than 45,000 tons of CO2 per year.

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.

“The Cimarron Solar Facility demonstrates First Solar’s capabilities in utility-scale projects... integrating technology, manufacturing, project development and engineering, procurement and construction expertise,” says Frank De Rosa, First Solar’s senior VP of project development, North America.

“This is a key milestone for Southern Company as we steadily incorporate more renewables into our energy portfolio,” says Southern Company’s chairman, president & 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 notes 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, NM and is adjacent to Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch.

“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,” says Turner.

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,” says Ken Anderson, Tri-State’s executive VP & general manager.

Tags: First Solar Thin-film photovoltaic CdTe

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