Bringing new energy projects to Bartow County offers economic advantages for our residents and the businesses that are already here, and an incentive to attract new businesses. It also provides us with an opportunity to be more self-sufficient and less vulnerable in a shaky world economy. And due to recent advances in technology and the current economic slump, the high start-up costs you may have heard of in the past are no longer an obstacle. For an example of this, we don’t have to look any further away than Dalton, 50 miles up the road in Whitfield County, Georgia.
And more specifically, the plant where the largest solar energy system in the state of Georgia is located – covering the entire roof of a factory with solar arrays, and generating enough power to more than maintain the factory’s needs during peak times, and providing supplemental electricity during normal demand. This kind of system has a lifespan of 30-40 years. Not long ago, it took 20 years or more to earn back the cost of installing solar energy generating arrays, which limited the market for them. But due to improved technology as well as the rising cost of energy, the return on the investment is now realized in a much shorter time: the solar arrays that were just installed in Dalton four years ago, will be paid for this year. What that means is that the initial costs are paid back in 4-7 years, and for the remainder of the lifespan of the system – 25-35 years – companies in Dalton will profit from their longterm decision to provide for their energy needs and gain a better position for being more self-sufficient and competitive.
How could such an example be used in Bartow County – and without scary risks for taxpayers? We could consider a use like this for the vacant 800 acre industrial park and initiate a partnership with a Georgia-based solar power company to lease them the property. allow the solar power company to install clean energy solar cells there at their cost, maintain them at their cost, and we agree to buy the power from those cells in Bartow County at a reduced cost. This kind of deal is a power purchase agreement: like a performance contract, if they don’t perform, they don’t get paid. So there is no risk to the taxpayer, because we would not maintain the equipment or own the equipment until the end of the agreement, we would only be obliged to purchase the power for existing demands. And at the end of the agreement, we would inherit the cells and the arrays for the remainder of their operational life, at no cost to the tax payer – receiving free energy for over 20 years and reducing our need for outside energy sources.
This would be one step toward become more self-sufficient. Another step could be the upgrading of a co-generation plant near the industrial park and landfill – using landfill methane gas to generate both steam and electricity – and allowing us to attract business to Bartow County by providing cheaper costs of doing business. We can see the success of this kind of operation in Albany, Georgia. Bartow County could even consider using such a program to grant incentives of providing free steam in the industrial park for up to five years, to companies that bring their jobs and their businesses here.
This is not competition to existing providers such as Plant Bowen, because it is a different type of power. Under current legislation to expand the use of green and renewable energy, Georgia needs more green energy opportunities, which they could take advantage of if they partner with us in the operation.
This is a leading edge, longterm economic plan, to help enhance our longterm self-sufficiency. Economic plans have to be developed for the future, and to provide guidance and an environment for business and the community to succeed in a self-sufficient environment. Plans like this are not hinged on the success of a single business enterprise, but provide opportunities for any small business – or large business, for that matter – to come to our community and take advantage of the lower costs of doing business here.
Until we can make the decisions and carry out plans like this, we are going to be behind the learning curve. If we expect our children to be successful, we have to set an environment for them to be successful. And it is our responsibility as a community to bring such competitive advantages here, let Bartow County lead, and let the others watch our smoke. The solar cell programs, methane generators, the co-generation steam plants – we can create that edge in our county, and our children will benefit with jobs – jobs not based on disposable income, but professional jobs providing a future for the county. We can be the example that others will look to – of being more self-sufficient, putting ourselves in a position to benefit in spite of the rising price of energy costs, and providing a conducive business environment to attract manufacturing, technology and educational programs to Bartow County.
And in addition to providing for ourselves, our success in this this will force other counties to compete – and as we do this within the State of Georgia, our state will also become more competitive and more attractive to business. Using the advantage that clean, low cost electric or steam power can provide for business can make us a stronghold for business in the South – leading the rest of the country, generating competition, and making the U.S. more competitive. Business can lead the way where no government program can. And a favorable environment for business to create jobs is enhanced by the government getting out of the way. Our self-sufficiency will be the greatest resource of all for our successful future.