Building on a clean energy legacy that includes installing the first thermal solar panels on the roof of the White House, former President Jimmy Carter has now brought the renewable energy revolution to his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
Carter, who served as the 39th U.S. president from 1977 to 1981, set aside 10 acres of farmland outside Plains in 2017 for a 1.3-megawatt (MW) solar array. Developed by SolAmerica Energy, the installation was projected to generate over 55 million kilowatt hours of clean energy in Plains — more than half the town's annual needs.
In February 2020, SolAmerica President George Mori confirmed to People magazine that the solar farm still operates "in its original size" and does in fact provide more than half of the town's electricity.
“Rosalynn and I are very pleased to be part of SolAmerica’s exciting solar project in Plains," Carter said in a statement in 2017. "Distributed, clean energy generation is critical to meeting growing energy needs around the world while fighting the effects of climate change. I am encouraged by the tremendous progress that solar and other clean energy solutions have made in recent years and expect those trends to continue.”
Back in June 1979, President Carter made history by installing 32 panels on the roof of the White House to heat water. In a speech that day, Carter signaled that it would only be a matter of time before such technology would compete for a piece of America's energy portfolio.
"In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy. ... A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people."
While Carter's panels never did make it to the dawn of the 21st century, having been removed 14 years earlier by the Reagan administration, President Obama did make good on a promise to reinstate a 6.3-kilowatt solar array on the White House roof in 2014.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with new information since it was originally published in February 2017.