LaGrange Housing Authority celebrates solar energy system

Published 7:15 pm Thursday, June 13, 2019

On Wednesday evening, community partners gathered at the LaGrange Housing Authority to celebrate the ribbon cutting of LaGrange’s first SmartFlower, a ground-mounted solar panel system that tracks the sun and produces solar energy.

The new installation was funded by The Solutions Project and was installed through a partnership with the LaGrange Housing Authority and Jackson Services. The project is part of LHA’s efforts to educate residents, while providing healthy and efficient homes.

“We want the housing authority here to be something that it has never been before, but this is bigger than me,” said Zsa Zsa Heard, the CEO of the LaGrange Housing Authority.

“This is about our residents, and we are proving that there are ways to serve people, and they can go up and not down. We are not handing it out. This is just a tool to teach them. Our children get to learn about solar like they have never learned before. They’ve had a class before this project.”

Some children at LHA got to learn about solar power and the job opportunities that come with it during a camp prior to the ribbon cutting, and the camper’s paintings decorate the walls of a building inside what will become an enclosed space by the solar flower.

“We will be able to give power, and what we want to do with those savings is put it back into our children,” Heard said. “We don’t have the funds a lot of times to do a lot of things that we want, but if we save money here, we can put it back into our children and those programs will grow.”

Attendees at the program cheered changes that the program is already bringing about for students at LHA.

“I have also had the chance to see the services that they provide and meet the students that they are working with, and this is exactly what we want to see,” said Denise Cleveland-Leggett, the region 4 administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “The energy efficiency is fantastic. It is phenomenal. As was mentioned earlier, the money can go back from the savings to other people.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of solar photovoltaic installers is projected to grow 105 percent from 2016 to 2026, outpacing average growth for all professions and making a familiarity with solar power vital for local students.

“[Young people] are going to be the real beneficiaries of this kind of technology, and do you know what? We had to send some of our people in the LaGrange Housing Authority to school to learn this because this is so new that everyone is going to walk around talking about solar,” said Joseph Alford, vice chairman of the LaGrange Housing Authority’s board of commissioners. “Most people don’t understand [solar] well enough. We do. LaGrange Housing Authority has a person on our team that has been to school and is well prepared to take it on.”

Community partners also discussed LHA’s efforts to be leaders in the community.

“I would love for our neighbors — and personally, I would love for my hometown — to continue with what has long been a tradition of national and international leadership in health and sustainability and to really connect that with the solar revolution that our state is going through to economic opportunities,” said Michelle Moore, CEO of Groundswell.

Moore said that she grew up with Heard and was impressed with her vision for the LaGrange Housing Authority.

LHA recently made efforts to increase training opportunities for its residents, but speakers looked at the project for more than its training potential.

“The reason why I like it is it sparks innovation,” City Council Member Nathan Gaskin said.

“We talk about what it can give as far as kilowatts and saving money. I am looking beyond that. I want these children to wake up every morning and see innovation, so they know that crazy idea that is rolling around in their head, that idea that they think can’t work — I want them to know that it can work.”

According to speakers at the event, benefits are expected to reach outside of the Phoenix Landing community where the SolarFlower was installed.

“What it means most to me is pride,” said Dale Jackson, a community partner. “It is giving back that sense of pride. There is no reason anybody should be ashamed of anything anywhere they live, and that is what I love most about Zsa Zsa, and what you are doing, is you are giving back pride to the city, and that is something that I want to be a part of.”