DALTON, Ga. - Gray skies and the occasional rain shower may have put a damper on production Friday, but the dreary weather didn't stop solar energy proponents from predicting a sunny future for Dalton.
"There is no other place in Georgia where you can take a 10-mile tour and see this kind of installation of solar energy," Bill Silva, the president of United Renewable Energy, told about 50 people gathered in southern Whitfield County.
United Renewable Energy, which has installed many of Dalton's solar energy sites, hosted a tour for Dalton leaders, business owners from across the state and officials involved in promoting renewable energy in Georgia.
The tour included a rooftop solar array at USFloors, a newly installed array on top of a landfill at Textile Rubber and Chemical Co., Dalton Utilities' solar system and a solar tracking panel at IVC.
Georgia ranks 38th in the nation in solar development.
Piet Dossche, CEO of USFloors, told the group that for him solar isn't just about the environment - it makes good business sense for his company.
The company has saved 40 percent on utility costs since installing the panels, he said.
"I'm not a tree-hugger; I'm a business person," he said, amidst laughs from his listeners. "And the numbers do make sense."
Dossche said he also prides himself in being a leader, creating a more diverse economy in Dalton's carpet-heavy manufacturing world and helping the county become more energy independent.
Chip Howalt, CEO of Textile Rubber and Chemical Co., echoed Dossche's endorsement. Howalt's company has installed a solar array on top of an industrial landfill by using large cement blocks as ballast to anchor the solar panels. "It's a feel-good thing, but it will yield immediate results to the bottom line," he said.
Howalt said the company's rule of thumb is that an investment must pay for itself in three years, a criteria the solar array will meet.
Dalton Mayor David Pennington said he is not surprised to see Dalton embracing solar energy. It is, after all, a city that developed cutting-edge carpet manufacturing, he said.
"Dalton is the innovative capital of Georgia - we have diverse thinkers and diverse innovators," he said. "And if a company wants to begin making solar panels in Dalton, we will be happy to have them come."