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Georgia editorial roundup

June 5, 2019

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

June 3

The Augusta Chronicle on the future of solar in Georgia:

We’re not too old to recall when teachers reprimanded pupils for gazing out classroom windows during instructional time. Teachers probably still do that.

But now, at one of Richmond County’s newest schools, pupils can spark a learning connection by just looking outside. What they’ll see is a satisfying glimpse of clean, renewable energy production - not its future, but its present.

The Belair K-8 STEAM school has an array of solar panels that already are paying off. Since the system was installed two months ago, solar energy production has covered 100 percent of the school’s electric bill. That success is bound to continue.

The school is just off Jimmie Dyess Parkway near Fort Gordon. The solar panels are behind the school, within clear view of several classrooms.

The energy system is envisioned to generate about 60 percent of the school’s power, with excess power sold back to Georgia Power Co., to put on its grid for its millions of other customers to use.

Ah, you say, but what if the weather is cloudy or rainy? The school buys power like everyone else. But Belair K-8 saved so much money over that first two months, the excess solar-generated power the school sold back to Georgia Power paid for what they spent when it was cloudy.

If you’re a Richmond County taxpayer, footing the bill for keeping dozens of schools warm and cool, that fledgling program is wonderful news.

More good news; Richmond Hill K-8 - the new name for what used to be Sego, Rollins, Southside K-8 - is slated to be the next local school to give this solar program a try. We can’t imagine why it wouldn’t produce identical success.

We’ve advocated for clean energy on this page many times over the years, but often with an important caveat: Georgians will have to rely mostly on coal-fired power plants until other avenues of clean energy are rendered cost-efficient and even profitable.

Such switchovers can’t be executed immediately, as too many environmental advocates would want. Energy production can’t quickly turn on a dime that way. And in the past, commitments to solar power cost a fortune and produced questionable results. Past federal commitments to solar energy have cost big bucks, but yielded a tiny “bang.”

These days, economically feasible solar technology is starting to catch up with many people’s desire to use it. It’s caught on overseas on a grand scale. In fact, the Financial Times reported Monday that, according to the head of Europe’s largest power utility, that continent’s energy sector has reached a “watershed” moment - where cheaper clean energy is poised to overtake the economic viability of coal production within a decade.

Closer to home, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority - which directs programs to conserve and improve the state’s energy resources - provides rebates to cities, counties and K-12 public schools that use solar power. Gov. Brian Kemp also recently signed a Senate bill last month that will ease economic development barriers to renewable energy statewide.

There still are many kinks left to work out - high among them is the environmental problem surrounding solar panel disposal. But with state agencies and Georgia Power further exploring the development and use of solar, Georgia’s future use of diverse energy sources looks as bright as the sun.

Online: https://www.augustachronicle.com

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June 3

The Brunswick News on copying a winning formula:

When it comes to making something better, sometimes it helps to look at how other people are tackling the same problem. Sports teams frequently try to copy a winning formula, whether it is hiring away a coach that works for the other team or going after a coach that has a similar style. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it is usually a good idea to model your organization after a successful one.

That is what makes last week’s fact-finding trip by community leaders to Macon so key for the future of downtown Brunswick. The leaders rode nearly four hours in a bus to see what Macon has done to help revitalize its downtown area.

The Golden Isles contingent met with members of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia and NewTown Macon on the trip. One of the trip’s moderators, Robbo Hatcher, said more has happened in downtown Macon in the last five years than in the past 50. Something that could spark that kind of turnaround is of keen interest to our community stakeholders.

The president of NewTown Macon, Josh Rogers, said the city offered incentives to lure new businesses to move downtown with no success. They switched tactics when that didn’t work and focused on creating lofts on the upper stories of buildings with businesses on the ground floor. They have renovated some vacant storefronts into apartments.

Downtown Macon now has more than 600 rental lofts with more planned as demand for the lofts increases.

We have seen some of this begin to happen in downtown Brunswick. Some developers are in the process of turning vacant buildings into apartments. There are also new businesses, restaurants and establishments that have opened recently or will open soon that will help attract people to downtown Brunswick.

To keep that trend going, city and business leaders need to focus on ways to help bring more housing to the downtown area. More lofts and other apartments will bring in more people to live in downtown Brunswick. The more people there are living downtown, the greater the need will be for businesses like grocery stores and more restaurants.

We would like to see the city government do more to incentivize building more housing in Brunswick. If we can find ways to help developers build new lofts or convert existing buildings, that could provide the spark to kick the revitalization of downtown into a new gear.

There is the chance that what worked in Macon won’t work here. The same way a team that hires a coach from a successful team doesn’t automatically become successful, running the exact playbook may not help Brunswick.

What needs to be done is to find a way to apply what worked for Macon, so that it can work for Brunswick. That may mean changing up a few things to fit more to Brunswick’s needs. The most important thing though is to get everyone pulling in the right direction. There are no places for egos when it comes to a project like this. Everyone has to be in it for the greater good of Brunswick, and not themselves, for it to work. That’s one of the things that has made Macon’s turnaround so successful.

If we can’t work together, then everyone’s dreams for a revitalized downtown Brunswick will die.

Online: https://thebrunswicknews.com

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June 1

The Savannah Morning News on aftermath of Gov. Brian Kemp’s signing of new abortion law:

What Gov. Brian Kemp calls “noise” over Georgia’s restrictive abortion law is near deafening, and the sources are no longer confined to “C-list celebrities.”

Netflix, Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia executives all issued statements of concern about the legislation. Studio leaders warn they will reconsider their investments in the state, currently the most popular film and television production destination in the country, should the law go into effect as scheduled in January.

The threats haven’t shaken the governor’s resolve. He told the members of the Georgia Press Association he’s “standing up for” and “valuing” life during a Thursday afternoon speech, calling the law “the right thing to do.”

And in a one-on-one interview with a Savannah Morning News’ editorial board member following his prepared remarks, he spoke frankly about the fallout.

“We’ve made a commitment to the industry that no other state has,” Kemp said of Georgia film tax incentives. “This a lot of noise from a few actors and others. If there are some in the entertainment industry who don’t want to invest here, there are others who will.

“There are a fair amount of Georgia citizens who disagree with us giving them money -- through the tax incentives -- to begin with.”

The interview was a “walk and talk” -- a brief conversation during the walk between the speech venue and the SUV waiting to take Kemp to his next engagement. The discussion was not scheduled and there was little opportunity to delve more deeply, although Kemp was more than accommodating and in no rush to end the interview.

As such, it would be foolhardy, even irresponsible, to read anything into his comments. This wasn’t a speech to an adoring audience, such as the one he gave last month in Savannah at the Georgia GOP convention. Kemp was playing to the crowd in that address and mocked producers and “C-list celebrities” upset with the anti-abortion law.

Faced with direct questions from a journalist Thursday, he dropped the hyperbole. He stood firm without taunting. He left the shotgun, chainsaw and a pickup truck at home.

Kemp is clearly frustrated by the mounting pushback given Georgia’s history of accommodating the industry but understands discretion is in order. Last year, 455 productions contributed $9.5 billion to the state’s economy. Atlanta is dotted with studios. Kemp made a visit to one of the largest, Pinewood, last week to show his support for the industry.

Pinewood is based in the United Kingdom, not California.

Empty threats?

What remains uncertain is whether the uproar from film industry players is more than rhetoric.

Several productions have now said they will not scout locations in Georgia, but there was no guarantee they ultimately would have shot their shows and movies here anyway. We’ve yet to have a production or studio pull up stakes.

Should that start to happen, Georgia’s leaders must be ready to react. Backing away from the heartbeat law is not an option, at least not before Kemp’s term expires in 2022. The situation would likely set up a high-stakes debate in the Legislature over the film tax credit -- expand it, hoping that’s enough to stem the departures, or repeal it in a thumbing-of-the-nose move.

The current incentive calls for a 30 percent credit for productions that spend at last $500,000 on a project in Georgia. The Amazon show that recently announced it had ruled out Savannah as a shoot location would have qualified for the equivalent of a $4.5 million rebate.

The showdown, state v. studios, is on hold while Roe v. Wade remains in effect. The boycotts are contingent on the abortion restrictions going into effect, as studio execs have hedged their threats -- unwilling to sacrifice the tax incentive windfall prematurely.

Court challenges loom for the abortion law. Many legal experts anticipate it being either struck down based on Roe v. Wade or stayed in anticipation of the Supreme Court hearing another abortion ban case in the near future. Georgia is one of several state’s to sign laws that restrict abortion this year.

Kemp and state leaders have time to hold discussions with film industry leaders and explore paths forward. The economic impact is too great -- and the potential for continued growth too obvious -- to simply trade barbs and engage in a standoff.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com

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