The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t have “climate” in its name but it’s described as the “most significant climate legislation ever enacted by Congress.”
It’s expected to bring an estimated $180 million of investment in large-scale clean power generation and storage to Georgia by 2030, add almost 110,000 clean energy jobs in the state over five years and provide rebates and tax credits for individuals buying electric vehicles or retrofitting their homes with solar panels or energy efficiency measures.
Savannah-area officials outlined recently how the act will cut costs for families, create jobs, boost local clean energy goals, and help protect the county from coastal flooding.
For Savannah, it offers opportunities to accelerate its “100% Savannah” program, initiated in March 2020, which aims to have all electricity consumed in the city provided by clean, safe and renewable sources by 2035. Its 2050 goal is to have all energy consumed in the city meet the same standard.
The city has already committed to $9 million in solar energy, with plans to cover the roofs of 20 municipal buildings in solar panels.
“This (federal legislation) gives us the ability through grant money to be even more ambitious to be able to rely on solar for more facilities throughout the city so that we can achieve 100% clean energy,” said Alderman Nick Palumbo at a press conference Wednesday co-hosted by Climate Action Campaign and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “And if it can work here in Savannah, it can work everywhere. …This unlocks the possibility not just for cities like Savannah but all over Georgia’s coast and in all of our country to be able to utilize the same programs we’re utilizing today and make it cost effective for them to get implemented well into the future.”
Savannah’s new solar is expected to provide workforce training as well as energy savings, Palumbo said. With a boost from the Inflation Reduction Act, he is eyeing plans to add solar to the city’s water treatment plan, which he calls an “energy hog” that costs about $8 million a year in electricity costs.
Mayor Van Johnson sees the funding available in the act as a way to “supercharge” the city’s installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
“We recognize more people are coming here with electric vehicles,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have enough infrastructure. As we move forwards, from hybrid to electric vehicles, we need to have more ability to charge them.”
Savannah lists five city-sponsored public charging stations on its web site. It also has begun deploying electric vehicles as part of the city’s own fleet, beginning in 2018 with a successful pilot program for employees who enforce parking regulations. The city is now leasing electric vehicles and previously announced plans to make 20% of its 2,500 or so vehicles electric by the end of the year.
For the county, the tangible benefit is likely to be reduced flooding. Commissioner Aaron “Adot” Whitely recounted how his mother’s house in Carver Village flooded in 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages as well as lost sentimental items including photographs and high school yearbooks. Some Chatham County streets flood regularly, even with no hurricane in sight.
“I think the biggest takeaway is going to be the investment in our infrastructure for stormwater drainage,” Whitely said. “In just roadway and stormwater drainage, at this point, we have a lot of work to do to our drainage canals throughout the county.”
The Inflation Reduction Act’s 730 pages include an estimated 56 climate-related incentives and programs.
People are more aware of the Inflation Reduction Act’s consumer-facing incentives, like tax credits for going solar, and EVs, said Chris Carnevale, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The legislation also provides grants and incentives for clean energy to local governments and nonprofits, which haven’t been able to take advantage of previous programs that offered only tax credits.
“There are also major programs investing in workforce development and growing domestic manufacturing,” Carnevale said. “One program in particular, that is of note, especially in Georgia is a production tax credit for businesses (available) for each component of a clean energy or clean transportation item that is produced and sold in the United States.”
The bill emphasizes clean energy jobs with a credit for manufacturers and installers that multiplies up to fivefold if the employer meets prevailing wage requirements and apprenticeship requirements.
“There’s a major incentive to provide jobs, inroads into the industry, and reward companies that invest in the workforce,” he said.
The Tide brings news and observations from The Current’s staff.