By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has transformed his farmland into a field of solar panels to help power his tiny rural hometown, nearly four decades after he first had panels installed on the roof of the White House.
Carter leased 10 acres (four hectares) to SolAmerica Energy for the installation of more than 3,800 panels that rotate to follow the sun and will provide energy to more than half of Plains, Georgia, which has fewer than 700 residents, the company said.
The project was formally unveiled this week when the former president, 92, and his wife Rosalynn Carter, cut a ceremonial ribbon marking its launch.
Carter, a Democrat, had 32 solar panels put on the White House roof in 1979, during an oil crisis spurred by strife in oil producer Iran.
His successor, Republican President Ronald Reagan, had the solar panels removed.
"This site will be as symbolically important as the 32 panels we put on the White House," Carter said at the ceremony, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. "People can come here and see what can be done."
A former peanut farmer from the rural U.S. South, Carter was a one-term president from 1977 to 1981, during which time he created the U.S. Department of Energy.
He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his work for peace, human rights and democracy.
In its first year, the solar project on Carter's land will power 200 homes, said George Mori, executive vice president of Atlanta-based SolAmerica.
The former president's installation of solar panels at the White House is "legendary," Mori told the Journal-Constitution in an interview.
"In our industry, he's somewhat of a hero for his vision around renewable energy and the growing need for it, for energy independence and also for environmental reasons," Mori said.
The White House panels provided solar-heated water for one of the presidential mansion's kitchens. They were removed in 1986.
Solar panels were installed again in 2003 under President George W. Bush.
Carter most recently used his farmland to grow soybeans, the newspaper said.
He was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, but said last year that he no longer needed treatment.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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