First Solar lands 30 MW project in New Mexico

* Deal struck between First Solar and Southern Co, Turner

* Plant expected to be operational by the end of this year

LOS ANGELES, March 15 (Reuters) - Thin-film solar maker First Solar Inc FSLR.O has struck a deal to sell a 30 megawatt power project to utility owner Southern Co SO.N and Ted Turner's Turner Renewable Energy, the panel maker said on Monday.

Construction is set to start this month on the project, which is expected to supply power to roughly 9,000 homes, or 18,000 residents. The plant, to be located in northern New Mexico, is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2010.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

First Solar, like other makers of photovoltaic solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity, is working to build its U.S. business through utility-scale and commercial projects. It is providing the engineering, procurement and construction services for the project, and will operate it under a 25-year contract.

The U.S. utility market is expected to grow this year as the sector rebounds from tight credit and as the government encourages new development.

The New Mexico project is forecast to employ some 500,000 photovoltaic modules made by First Solar, which uses cadmium telluride rather than polysilicon to make its thin film cells.

First Solar has the lowest production cost in the industry, though its cells are not as efficient as those made by rivals such as Suntech Power Holdings STP.N and SunPower Corp SPWRA.O.

Shares of the Arizona-based company were down 0.37 percent at $115.10 in early morning trade. (Reporting by Dana Ford, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)