U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock touts solar energy’s future at Dalton solar plant

Jun. 29—Dalton has long been known as the Carpet Capital of the World. But could it one day be known as the Solar Capital of the World?

“I’d love to see that,” said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia. “I think it’s possible. It’s something I’m trying to support. That’s why we are here at the largest solar manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere, which is in Dalton.”

Warnock spoke Monday after touring the Hanwha Q Cells solar module manufacturing plant in the Carbondale Business Park just south of Dalton.

“I think it’s important to say that we can create a future that is both ecologically sustainable and economically sustainable,” he said. “We cannot we have one without the other. That’s why companies like this are so important. This is a company, and this is a community, that will help us transition from the old industrial era to the industries of the future — green, sustainable.”

The plant, which opened in 2019, currently employs 650, according to Hanwha General Counsel Andy Munro. The modules the plant produces can generate 1.7 gigawatts of solar energy a year. By comparison, Nevada’s Hoover Dam, which produces hydroelectric power, generates about 4 gigawatts each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Warnock on Jan. 5 defeated incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler in the runoff in a special election to fill the U.S. Senate term of Johnny Iskason. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to fill that seat until a special election could be held after Isakson stepped down for health reasons in December 2019. That term ends at the end of 2022.

Since taking office, Warnock has made “clean energy,” which doesn’t rely on fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas, one of his main focuses.

“I am committed to President (Joe) Biden’s goal of getting us to carbon neutral energy by 2035,” he said. “I think it is possible. The technology is real and present. We have seen some of it here today.”

Carbon neutral means America would have net zero emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas that is commonly believed to cause global warming. The administration says its plans are needed to mitigate the harm that global warming could cause.

Warnock and Georgia’s other U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, also a Democrat, are among the sponsors of the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act, which was introduced on June 21. Warnock says the act will boost solar manufacturing in Georgia and the rest of the United States. Ossoff toured the Hanwha Q Cells plant in May.

“It will provide tax incentives at every stage of the manufacturing process for production just like this,” he said. “This is the future. It is economically smart, and it is ecologically smart.”

Warnock said one of the goals of the legislation is to help create well-paying jobs in green energy.

“Jobs cure a whole range of problems,” he said. “A job is about supporting yourself and your family, but it should also be about dignity. And one of my jobs as Georgia’s senator is to make sure we have these kinds of jobs and these kinds of industries here in Georgia.”

Munro thanked Warnock for his sponsorship of the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act, which he called a potential “game changer” that could substantially boost U.S. solar manufacturing.