Solar energy — Georgia’s newest economic development opportunity

By Saba Long

Our capital city is often the state’s poster child for innovation delivery, but we may have just been one-upped on an unlikely category — sustainability — specifically renewable energy..

Situated between Savannah and Atlanta, Dublin is not the first place to come to mind when considering a government entity interested in a public-private partnership to provide solar energy.

Teaming up with Greenavations, the city and county recently announced a new project to install over 4,000 solar panels at Dublin High School. The move is expected to save the school $100,000 in the first year alone.

In a Greenavations press release, Georgia Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald quipped: ”Bringing solar to Georgia has not been easy, but when people work together this is what can happen. This Dublin solar project is going to be a model for similar projects across this state.”

Metro Atlanta-based think tank Environment Georgia has produced a 19-page A Bright Future: Building a Solar Atlanta with assistance from Southeast Green and Southface.

The paper gives a framework for the city to achieve a number of renewable energy goals year 2030 including generating 10 percent solar power via rooftop and water heating installations.

If these goals are met, the reduction in household carbon dioxide pollution would be the equivalent of taking more than 130,000 cars off the road. Other benefits of expanding solar power usage include reducing Georgia Power’s Plant McDonough reliance on the Chattahoochee River, preventing mercury pollution and conceivably reducing our diminishing coal mining.

Can solar energy improve domestic job growth? According to a Census report, it already is. The industry currently employs over 100,000 Americans and is growing at roughly 13 percent year over year. In Georgia, we are nearing 2,000 — a promising number for the construction industry.

Environment Georgia’s study notes manufacturing a megawatt of solar photovoltaic panels requires approximately six full-time employees working for a year. Of the 748 solar electric installations in the state, only a quarter of them are located in the 10-county region.

Atlanta-based Radiance Solar’s Dakin Spain said: “Solar provides professional level jobs for system designers, engineers, sales executives, installers, and project managers. This spurs local economic development and recovery. Solar can’t be outsourced.”

The company was recently recognized by the Metro Atlanta Chamber for a joint project with Georgia Tech for their advances in solar design.

As evidenced by House Bill 657, the Rural Georgia Economic Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014, whose co-sponsors include State Reps. Rusty Kidd (R-Milledgeville) and Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville ), the Republican pitch for embracing solar power is job creation coupled with a reduction in energy costs.

State leaders considering the costs-benefit of encouraging solar development should look no further than North Carolina. A 2007 North Carolina bill mandated the use of renewables; last year North Carolina was ranked in the top five of solar energy states.

While a solar mandate would certainly alarm Georgia’s utilities, it is clear exploring solar energy adaptation is worth pursuing.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

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