International deals underpin Gov. Brian Kemp’s announcement today that solar power provider Silicon Ranch Corp. would build three solar farms in southwest Georgia’s Early County.
The $150 million investment pledged by the Nashville, Tenn.-based company includes a project already under construction in Blakely, Ga., which will help provide power to a massive Facebook data center all the way back up in Newton County, near Atlanta.
That facility, developed in partnership with Walton County EMC, will be powered by 355,000 panels made in northwest Georgia by Hanwha Q CELLS, a Korean provider which last year announced it would invest its own $150 million to build the company’s largest Western Hemisphere factory. It’s set to open next year and will employ 500 people at full capacity.
“This innovative project will result in Georgia-made products providing energy in Georgia communities to power Georgia homes and Georgia businesses,” said Mr. Kemp in a news release.
Two more facilities are planned for Early County and will sell the power to Tucker-based Green Power EMC, which provides renewable energy to 38 Georgia electricity cooperatives.
In addition to sourcing internationally, Silicon Ranch has engaged on the equity side: Its largest shareholder is oil giant Royal Dutch Shell plc, which is based in the Netherlands but incorporated in the United Kingdom. The company bought 43.83 percent of Silicon Ranch for $217 million in cash in January 2018, with the option to increase its stake after 2021.
Nationally, the news hasn’t all been on the sunny side for solar. Panels were singled out by the Trump administration in 2017 for blanket import tariffs that are still in effect, though with a tariff-exempt quota and a gradual phaseout over five years.
The Solar Foundation said employment in Georgia’s solar sector fell by 14 percent to 3,696, in part because the tariffs created an environment of uncertainty for imported panels in 2018, though it predicted an uptick in 2019 as more utility-scale projects come to fruition.
Mr. Kemp has made revitalizing rural Georgia a key priority of his administration. That’s a value view shared by Matt Kisner, the former commissioner of economic development for Tennessee who now serves as a CEO of Silicon Ranch.
“Silicon Ranch is committed to the people of rural America, who deserve low-cost, clean energy and an economic shot in the arm,” Mr. Kisner said at the Georgia Capitol Thursday. “They are our fuel that our company is all about. We believe we can make a positive difference in the communities we serve, and we are thrilled to be the newest corporate citizens of Early County.”