US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and US Sen. Jon Ossoff led a solar energy roundtable in Savannah Friday. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

Savannah will soon start the process of adding solar panels to 22 municipal buildings, Mayor Van Johnson said Friday. Requests for proposals will be posted by the end of the month.

“For us, that’s really, really big, especially being so quick,” Johnson told a roundtable of business, government and nonprofit officials, including U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks as Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff look on. On the far left is Abigail Ross Hopper , President and CEO, Solar Energy Association of America Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

The facilities targeted for solar installations include four water treatment plants, four parking garages, four fire stations, five community centers, the police headquarters, and the Enmarket Arena, slated to open in January. The city currently does not have solar panels on any of its buildings, spokeswoman Amanda LaBrot said.

The new systems will be financed with solar energy procurement agreements, Johnson said. Such agreements typically include a developer financing and installing the solar on a customer’s property at little to no cost to the customer. The developer sells the power generated to the host at a fixed rate, typically lower than the utility’s retail rate. 

“For us, that is a quantum leap into this game,” Johnson said. “And Savannah wants to lead in this state. And Georgia wants to lead this country.”

The solar rooftops will be among the first tangible outcomes of Savannah’s 100% clean energy goal. Passed as a city council resolution in March 2020, the pledge steers Savannah toward a goal of relying on 100% safe, clean and renewable energy for  all electricity consumed in the city of Savannah by 2035. The city does not yet have a goal for what percentage of its energy it wants to come from solar by that date, Johnson said. 

Georgia a solar hub

Georgia is already a hub for solar manufacturing, Ossoff said, with  one of the largest electric vehicle battery plants in the country — the SK Innovation plant in Commerce — and the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere — Hanwha Q-Cells in Dalton.  

“This is about ending pollution, to protect Coastal Georgia and protecting our planet,” Ossoff said. “This is about investing in American manufacturing and clean energy jobs. And this is about American energy independence. And that’s why I’m leading the charge on solar in the US Senate with the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act, to bring the entire solar production supply chain to America to create those jobs, to ensure America’s energy independence and to end pollution and transition to clean energy.”

On Friday morning the group toured Lanza Biotech, a biofuels manufacturer of aviation fuel under construction in Soperton. Following the roundtable, Granholm and Ossoff participated in a driving tour of the nearby Seapoint Industrial Terminal Complex, a manufacturing and logistics hub that includes a 1megawatt solar installation on an 8-acre pollinator site complete with bee hives in a former landfill off President Street in Savannah.

Additionally, on Friday the DOE announced a new goal for the National Community Solar Partnership – growing nationwide solar capacity to power the equivalent of five million households by 2025 and generating $1 billion in energy bill savings.  

“I say there’s not a silver bullet, there’s silver buckshot,” Granholm said at the roundtable, held at the Pennsylvania Avenue Resource Center in Savannah. “We need all sorts of solutions to be able to get to the goals that we need. And there’s no question with what we have seen over the past summer, that we are at Code Red for humanity, and that we need to take action and that there was a huge sense of urgency.”