How Georgia Became A Surprising Bright Spot In The U.S. Solar Industry
Support for this podcast and the following message come from frame bridge. They make custom framing easy and affordable frame. Your art in photos at frame bridge dot com or visit their new stores located on fourteenth street and Bethesda row. Get fifteen percent off your first frame bridge order with code NPR, as states consider what if anything to do about climate change? One thing more than half of them have done is set mandates around renewable energy in many places. That's driving the growth of wind and solar. But it's not happening everywhere today and tomorrow, I'm going to take you on a road trip to a state that proudly has no such mandate, Georgia, my home state again. No mandates requiring clean energy and yet Georgia is in the middle of a solar power. Boom. And I can tell you that with confidence because I just drove it top to bottom. We started in Dalton north Georgia near the Tennessee State line when I was a kid growing up in Georgia win. Someone said Dalton, you said corporates mean this was a one horse town for a long time. Absolutely don't mayor. Dennis mock, who assures me Dalton is still quote the carpet capital of the world. They make all kinds of floor coverings, actually laminates hardwood tiles. And then last year, a company from Korea came knocking they showed up, we liked him, and they liked us, and that's how it works. The company was Han walk, Hugh sells this January five months ago here in Dalton Georgia production began at the biggest solar assembly factory in the western hemisphere. When we go out on the floor. There are a lot of moving pieces. So if we can all stay together or guide. Lisa nash. She helped hire the six hundred people this factory. Now employs we've just stepped through a couple of double doors onto the main factory floor. It's about a football field and a half long getting the lay of the land of the production line here, actually three production lines, side-by-side operating twenty four seven around us solar cells, or getting slotted into frames workers or checking for defects. I'm trying to wrap my head around the scale of the place when a kind of critter forklift approaches. What are these little robot cars? I just saw standing high stirs. They're basically unmanned forklifts, and they are hauling pallets of finished panels around almost all the machinery here was shipped over from Korea. So the final solar product could be assembled here in Georgia and my. Question for Scott Moskowitz director of strategy and market intelligences, why, why Georgia, why Georgia? Well, first of all, the US is the second largest solar market in the world. It will be for the foreseeable future. He's let us up to a conference room. We have peeled off the big plastic goggles, and paper booties. We were required to wear on the factory floor. Moskowitz says locating in Georgia made sense in part because a lot of customers want to do the tour we have just done. See firsthand, how their panels are made the vast majority of these will end up in projects in the US and many of them in projects in the southeast because this is the largest region for solar installations over the next five years. So advanced is high demand for solar is high and growing, then there's the matter of tariffs, Scott Moskowitz says they were already eyeing the US market when President Trump slapped a thirty percent tariff on solar imports, just four months later may twenty eighteen Han Waku cells announced this plant tariffs have made it such that for the time being this is the most attractive place. To assemble panels for use in the US market. Okay. Now, let me introduce another player on the solar seen here in Georgia Facebook. Yes. Facebook is headquartered on the other side of the country, but they are behind one of the first orders for this factory in Dalton last year around the same time on Waku, so's was sniffing around and Dalton Facebook announced plans to build a giant data center just a couple of hours drive southeast. So we porn or car down. I seventy five towards her next stop. Rear have now driven out east of Atlanta. Or in Newton County, Georgia, I'm looking out over a massive building sate with cement, mixers, dumpsters, all kinds of construction equipment. This is the future sate of what a lot of people, we've met here in Georgia are describing to us as a game changer for solar in Georgia that is because the building taking shape in front of me when it comes online next year, it is going to, require as much energy as a small to mid size city Facebook's data centers house, the servers that process, every time you like opposed or come in on a friend's Paul Clements runs the Facebook team that scouts new locations. He told me when he originally came hunting a couple years ago. He noticed something, it's very sunny in the south part of Georgia, yet renewable energy was not really taking off in the state, which he saw as an opportunity. The field was wide open Facebook. Taylor. The kind of solar deal at one in Georgia and market forces were cooperating the price of solar has been falling and falling more than seventy percent over the last decade. We've found that when we go into new regions, and we're able to access renewable energy that we typically are able to achieve lower electrcity rates than we would through a normal non green energy solution, which matters because Facebook has set a company goal support. All its electricity needs with one hundred percent renewable energy by next year here in Georgia, the utility that is giving Facebook access to all that renewable energy is Walton EMC headquartered about twenty miles back north from the Facebook, construction say. We roll up enter greeted by Greg Brooks. Then the community in public relations director Brooks says his customers want solar big customers, such as Facebook and your everyday Joe. But some people's roofs are to shady, some people don't want solar panels on top of their houses. Some people can't afford them. So Brooks brings us out to see one of the community solar installations. They have built kind of sort of like a community, Gordon. So it is a scorcher of a day here in Georgia's can be ninety something degrees. Again, we've just driven to you said, this is the smallest of the community lots, you've got going for two hundred panels takes about six acres how this works. If you are a Welton EMC customer, you can opt to pay twenty five bucks a month. You get a block of solar panels in the community plot and a credit on your Bill. It has been popular so popular the first two installation sold out, in days now, renewables account for a tiny fraction of the energy mix Walton. EMC provides customers is still listen, one percent that is soon to change, though, thanks to Facebook. The amount of power that Facebook will gobble up means wall. Neom MC has to build a couple of new solar plants to serve them. I mean how big a deal is that for company like Walton AMC is a huge deal a game changer kind of deal or would say so. Would say so we're actually getting calls from other companies now their corporate philosophy and policy is if they wanna do renewable to now I should point out the obvious solar does not work at night, does not work when it rains. So there are going to be times when Facebook will have to rely on fossil fuels when the sun is out, those new solar farms will send more clean energy to the grid than Facebook can use during the day and that access will count towards their renewable energy goal. A solar is a valuable piece of the energy mix. But I I don't ever see us going to a hundred percent of anyone fuel source. Then again, Greg Brooks never thought he would be standing here in two thousand nineteen next two rows, and rows of solar panels, talking about the solar boom, in Georgia, even ten years ago, I didn't think so, because it was so expensive this amazing to me. This is the most fun project. I've worked on in my career. Really, why it kind of gets us back to our roots because the people we were. Invented to serve plan at something in a field and the sun shine Donut and they harvested that crop. And we've planted these solar pounds out here and we're harvest in the sun is giving us to serve our members. So that's kind kinda neat. Now land near Atlanta is expensive. So the solar farms for Facebook, they are going up in the south of the state, a road trip continues tomorrow.