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'Good marriage to celebrate today': Houston County celebrates completed solar project in Elko

There is no way to track which 11K homes will receive energy from the solar farm, but officials say it will make Central Georgia's energy more affordable over time.

ELKO, Ga. — If you're driving to Florida, you might see Houston County's finished solar project off I-75 in Elko. Starting Wednesday, the site is producing clean energy for Central Georgia.

Officials initially announced the project back in November of 2020, and now it's 700 acres wide off of I-75.

About a year-and-a-half ago, this area was just grass. Now, the land is home to nearly 225,000 solar panels.

"It's hard to understand how much that really is, but 68 megawatts will serve thousands of homes," Jeff Pratt, the President of Green Power EMC, said.

Wednesday, Houston County leaders and state officials "flipped the switch" to celebrate the new solar farm.

"In the end, when you put all of the solar together, it helps drive down the wholesale prices that Flint Energies for example and other co-ops in the state use to keep energy affordable and reliable, so it helps every customer out in Houston County," Pratt said.

The construction created 300 jobs, making it a $55 million investment.

"It is a huge facility. We are extremely proud that Silicon Range decided to build here. It will pay dividends for years to come," Houston County Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said.

Now that it's online, it will help power 11,000 homes. Matt Kisber, co-Founder of Silicon Ranch, says the project has many benefits besides low-cost, renewable, clean energy.

"To the people of Houston County, they benefit from a new revenue stream, because we will be paying property taxes on the equipment and the land here, along with the partnerships we will do with the Future Farmers of America," Kisber said.

Gary Black, Georgia's Agriculture Commissioner, says 700 sheep will live here and graze the grass to keep the panels in the sun.

"Helping get the sheep industry back underway and getting to partner with solar energy, I think it's a pretty good marriage to celebrate today," Black said.

"We have natural regeneration. As we grow the flock, there will be opportunities for food processing, too, so you have economic development that will come from the renewable energy, but also the agricultural aspects of this project," Kisber said.

"It's a great day to celebrate another Georgia-grown success," Black said.

"Putting all these pieces together. We get a winning formula for Houston County, the State. and for economic development in general," Pratt said.

Officials say the clean energy isn't just going directly to Houston County families, it's also going to homes across the state. There is no way to track which homes receive energy from the solar farm, but officials also say, it will make Central Georgia's energy more affordable over time.

The Houston County Board of Education may be able to use the site as an agricultural class.

Some of the speakers at Wednesday's event included: Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black, Georgia Public Service Commissioners, Members of the Georgia House of Representatives, Members of the Georgia Senate, Houston County Development Authority, Houston County Commission, Houston County Board of Education, Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations (EMCs), Green Power EMC, Silicon Ranch Corporation.