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Solar power for a forgotten library
Gullah solar
Vaughnette Goode-Walker, author and keynote speaker for the event. She spoke about Gullah Geechee traditions. Photo provided.

Op-ed by Tim Echols, Georgia Public Commission Service

SAPELO ISLAND, Ga.. -- Just north of the well-visited St. Simons and Sea Islands in southeast Georgia, there exists an isolated barrier island rich with history and a tiny Gullah Geechee community called Hog Hammock.

 And in the middle of that community is a modest library—that now is powered by solar.

 The idea started when I was visiting the island with a new resident—a black attorney from Boston who challenged me to find a way to meaningfully help the descendants of enslaved West Africans brought to the island 300 years ago to work on island plantations. We settled on figuring out a way to bolster the community library—which sat in the heart of the community.

 I went back to Atlanta and shared the vision with a newly formed organization of large-scale solar developers whose members were building solar farms across middle and south Georgia.

 The Public Service Commission has been commissioning vast amounts of market-based solar since 2011. These companies were a part of that success. Stepping forward to lead the project were two University of Georgia guys (Greg White and Scott Wolfrey), who had formed a company called Southern Current. Joining them in the effort was a French energy company called EDF, whose Lynnae Willet was intrigued by the French history of Sapelo. Rounding out the quartet was my friend Dave Raught who works for Yellawood, the pressure-treated pine company, who volunteered to supply all the wood for the project.

 It was decided after looking at the library and its roof that the mission to solarize the library would be better accomplished by building a pavilion to hold the panels next door to the library. That was considered better than roof-mounting the panels and risking any leaks that might damage artifacts in the important community structure. Such a pavilion could double as a picnic area at the adjacent playground and provide needed shade to any who might find themselves there.

 With the financial resources in place, the Department of Natural Resources staff began barging the materials over and in short order the project was completed. Within 48 hours, the pavilion not only provided all of the daytime energy needed by the library, but it pushed back 25 kilowatt hours to the grid triggering a credit on the library’s power bill.

At the ribbon-cutting, it was my honor to dedicate and name the pavilion for Dr. Carolyn Dowse— who was instrumental in starting the Hog Hammock Library. Surrounded by residents and visitors, our small group celebrated the merger of technology and history.

 Solar is good for Georgia and great for Hog Hammock. Let’s keep it going. 

Tim Echols is a statewide elected official in Georgia serving as vice-chair of the Public Service Commission.

The solar pavilion was named after Dr. Carolyn Dowse, who founded the library. Photo provided.
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Hog Hammock residents and visitors gather for the Aug. 24 ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo provided.
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