Georgia’s solar boom applauded in Clean Water Coalition’s ‘Clean 13’ report
Other power sources draw from rivers
Mischa Keijser/Getty Images
A large manufacturer is busily cranking out solar panels in Dalton. A leading manufacturer of school buses based in Fort Valley says it will be nearly all electric by 2030. And a group of north Georgia residents rallied to stop biomass plants from burning creosote-soaked railroad ties.
Georgia clean water advocates are pointing to these changes in a new report as signs the push for clean energy is gaining traction in the state.
“Our state, our country is changing rapidly,” said Joe Cook, the author of the Clean Water Coalition’s new “Clean 13” report and a staffer with the Georgia River Network. “We are moving towards a clean energy economy. It’s happening right before our eyes.”
Solar, in particular, is booming in Georgia but still only accounts for 4% of the state’s energy demands, according to the report.
Most of the state’s electricity is generated at coal, gas and nuclear power plants that depend on the water pumped from Georgia’s rivers. Coal plants have also left behind massive ponds of ash, a significant amount of which Georgia Power plans to leave in unlined pits that are drained but in contact with the groundwater.
“I don’t think anybody’s claiming that solar has a zero-carbon footprint or an absolutely zero-water footprint – because that’s not true – it’s just less and it’s a lot less,” said Gordon Rogers, director of the Flint Riverkeeper.
State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, a Rome Republican, said much of the recent shift to solar has to do with its low cost.
“Not only do you feel good, but you actually are economically competitive with it,” Hufstetler said during a virtual press conference unveiling the report Tuesday. “I would contrast that with one of my sore subjects, Plant Vogtle.”
Hufstetler, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has long been a critic of the expansion of the nuclear power plant near Augusta, which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. The project’s rising cost, he said, will ultimately have a “detrimental effect” on customers’ power bills.
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Hanwha Q CELLS’ massive plant in Dalton was the largest solar panel factory in the western hemisphere when it officially opened in 2019, drawn to the South because of the demand for solar installations.
Scott Moskowitz, the company’s director of public affairs, highlighted solar’s low reliance on water to generate electricity.
“Traditional fossil fuels use a lot of water,” Moskowitz said. “They use water to cool. They use water for a variety of purposes. There’s a lot of effluent that comes out of those factories. They change the temperature of the water, which can be really difficult for rivers.
“Of course, solar energy plants use no water. They don’t need cooling of any kind. The manufacturing processes themselves are also very minimally water intensive. Our factories are run completely by electricity,” he said, adding that the Dalton factory is partially powered by panels made on the site.
The report also recognized as “clean water heroes” Fort Valley’s Blue Bird Bus Corp. for its shift toward electric school buses and the residents of two northeast Georgia counties who banded together last year to persuade lawmakers to ban creosote-soaked railroad crossties from being burned for energy at a pair of biomass plants.
Environmentalists also praised the city of South Fulton for becoming the first city in Georgia to adoption regulations prohibiting businesses from using plastic and the city of Savannah for partnering with restaurants and bars in the city’s entertainment district for a pilot program replacing plastic to-go cups with recyclable Georgia-made aluminum.
“Each and every individual in the U.S. uses over 1,000 plastic bags each year,” Cook said. “It’s startling how many plastic bags we use.”
Hufstetler and former state Rep. Andy Welch, a McDonough Republican, were also honored for their work on a measure dedicating revenues from fees to their originally intended purpose. The poster child for fee diversion is the $1 scrap tire fee motorists pay when buying a new tire. Voters overwhelmingly backed the “anti-bait-and-switch” proposal last fall.
Now, $7.6 million has been allocated this year for the solid waste trust fund – which goes to clean up tire dumps and other litter – and another $7.6 million has been set aside to clean up hazardous waste sites and remediate old, unlined landfills that pose a threat to drinking water and the environment.
“It’s important, I think, for the trust of government, that when we make laws that says these funds will be used here that they actually will be used here,” Hufstetler said.
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