Sustainability is sweeping the nation and Georgia is riding the wave. Renewable energy is the fastest growing energy source in the United States with solar generation projected to climb to 48 percent of total renewable generation by 2050. Currently, the U.S. has the capacity to power over 13.5 million American homes with solar energy alone, and municipalities across the country are steadily turning the lights on with renewables. No stranger to sunshine, Georgia ranks 7th in the nation in solar capacity and today, the state is tapping into a future of renewables led by mayors and city councils, perfectly positioned to reach across political and ideological lines with a first-hand understanding of real people facing real problems in their communities. In December, 2019, five Georgia mayors, including Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. of Augusta, Mayor Patti Garrett of Decatur, and Mayor Ted Terry of Clarkston, joined Mayors for Solar Energy, a bipartisan group representing over 300 cities nationwide calling for a future powered by clean renewable energy.
“Mayors for Solar Energy is proof that regardless of geography, demographics or political affiliation, local leaders understand how beneficial solar can be for a wide array of communities,” says Channa Childs, Clean Energy Fellow with Environment Georgia. “The future of energy will be clean and close to home, and these mayors represent the first wave of leaders who will bring the benefits of solar to communities coast-to-coast.” The first to go clean, Atlanta and Augusta passed clean energy resolutions in 2017 and 2018, respectively, creating strong goals for 2035, with other cities fast on the trail. In under five months the “Solarize Athens” project more than tripled residential solar energy capacity in their metropolitan area. Savannah followed suit, making the commitment to generate 100% of the city’s electricity from safe, clean and renewable energy by 2035, with all other energy needs going fully clean by 2050.
Across the state, college students have gotten the memo, according to Environment Georgia’s recent “Renewable Energy 101” report that details tools available to colleges, universities, state and local governments to support the shift toward 100% clean and renewable energy. The report provides stats on twelve Georgia institutes of higher education already effectively implementing the strategies. Named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education last year, Georgia Southern University has been particularly creative in their approach to get students and staff involved in promoting waste reduction and sustainable living. For their Recycled Boat Regatta competition, students build and race boats made entirely of recycled materials like cardboard, bottles and milk jugs. The college launched a strong recycling initiative for tailgating at home football games and they also host “No Impact Week, ” working with Goodwill across campus to gather clothing, electronics, and household items that can be reused and recycled. Every year they participate in Recycle Mania, an eight-week nationwide competition among schools to see who can recycle the most items. In 2018 and 2019, Georgia Southern students recycled 214 tons of material.
Georgia Southern’s Center for Sustainability Director, Dr. Lissa Leege says: “Universities are the perfect place to teach sustainability, because we are educating the leaders of the future. If they walk away from our campus with important information about how to solve sustainability problems with an understanding of how to do that, they will take that to their job, they will take that to Congress, they will take that out into the world and make the changes that need to happen.” Whether they join Georgia’s eighty-three thousand strong workforce in clean energy, or they apply their knowledge elsewhere, the sun is up and the sky is blue for students of Georgia Southern and for the whole state looking to a future bright with renewable energy.