Solar Energy Comes to Plains, Georgia

In the February 11, 2017 edition of the New York Times, solar energy made the national news.   Former President, Jimmy Carter, recently installed 3,852 solar panels on ten acres of his peanut farm to help power over one-half of the energy needs of his hometown in Plains, Georgia, population 683.  The electricity generated feeds into Georgia Power’s grid and earns the former first family less than $7,000 annually.  

 

The motivation behind the project is not, however, the money earned selling electricity back to the utility company.  What is most important to the 92-year-old Carter is that the project can be duplicated in other rural areas across America.  According to “Mr. Jimmy” as he is called in Plains, his small-scale effort could “hold lessons for other pockets of pastoral America in an age of climate change and political rancor.”  Alternative energy provides power, but also jobs.

 

The Plains project is a significant accomplishment but also an ironic one – Jimmy Carter was the President who came to a press conference in 1977 dressed in a cardigan sweater during what he was the first to term “America’s energy crisis” and urged his fellow Americans to turn the heat down.  Almost 38 years ago, Carter then had solar panels installed in the White House to send a message that the US needed to find energy alternatives to what was then our almost-exclusive reliance on foreign oil.  Not only was that dependency financially costly, but the ongoing political upheaval in the Middle East meant that US security could be seriously impacted by fluctuations in supply.  

 

Ronald Reagan took down those solar panels when he became President and newly-elected President Donald Trump has campaigned as an advocate for coal and says he has plans to reopen coal mines across the country to help create jobs.  Regardless of the direction taken, it is important to note that solar power usage in the US has more than doubled since 2013. With minimal incentives from state and local governments, more and more homeowners, businesses and power companies are coming to realize that solar energy is an abundant source of essentially free power that has amazing potential to solve our planet’s energy needs with minimal impact on the environment.  According to the US Department of Energy, just 18 days of sunshine on Earth contains the same amount of energy as is stored in all of the planet’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas.  And, once a system is in place to harness the solar resource and convert it into useful energy, the fuel is free.  These factors make solar energy attractive from both an economic as well as an environmental point of view.

 

President Trump has expressed skepticism about the extent of global warming and its accompanying climate change.  Carter’s response?   “I hope that we’ll see a realization on the part of the new administration that one of the best ways to provide new jobs — good-paying and productive and innovative jobs — is through the search for renewable sources of energy,” said Carter in an interview at his former high school.