Carter leases land to solar power much of hometown

Carter leases land to solar power much of hometown

A view of the new solar “farm” on land owned by former President Jimmy Carter, with the city of Plains seen in the background. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution

For anyone looking for a sign from above, this one was awfully hard to miss.

For much of Wednesday morning, fog and even some intermittent drizzle had shrouded the field of solar panels recently constructed on a piece of farmland owned in Plains, Ga., by former President Jimmy Carter. Then, just as he and his wife, Rosalynn, cut the ceremonial ribbon on a project that will bring reneweable energy to much of their hometown, the sun burst out overhead, as if to underscore the significance of the long-in-the-making moment.

“This site will be as symbolically important as the 32 panels we put on the White House,” Carter had earlier told a crowd of about 100 people — and one persistently crowing rooster nearby. “People can come here and see what can be done.”

The 45-minute ceremony officially marked the completion of an ambitious project by Atlanta-based SolAmerica Energy to construct solar panels on a 10-acre site leased from Carter, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It also brought full circle a personal commitment to renewable energy on Carter’s part that first burst into view in 1979 when he had solar panels installed on the White House roof.

Now, some 37 years after voters turned him out of that temporary home in Washington D.C. — and his successor, Ronald Reagan, dismantled his ahead-of-its-time solar roof project — the field of 3,852 rotating solar panels lies about half a mile from the modest ranch house where he and Roslynn have lived since 1961.

“I won’t use the word ‘vindicated,’ ” Carter said with a chuckle in response to a question about how “hot” solar power and other forms of renewable energy are considered now. “But I feel pleased … that’s a more political word to use.”

The project will provide more than 50 percent of the power needs of Plains, a snug Sumter County town of 683 people approximately 10 minutes from Americus. With three Jimmy Carter National Historic Site locations operated by the National Park Service and a block-and-a-half long business district that primarily caters to tourists, the increased reliance on renewable energy will be economically beneficial to Plains and to its approximately 215 homes, SolAmerica executive vice president and co-founder George Mori told the crowd.

Making a town go solar isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Mori first approached a friend several years ago about the possibility of working with the ex-president. He was “thrilled” when that friend, former Georgia state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter, reported back that his famous grandfather was interested in the idea.

After working out a long-term solar lease for the property, where Carter last grew soybeans, SolAmerica next turned its attention to finding a buyer for the solar power to be supplied to the grid. Georgia Power signed on for 25 years, and construction on the project began last October.


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