It may seem ironic for a state that enacted a ban on sea level rise, but renewable energy is powering up North Carolina’s economy by attracting investment, creating jobs, and lowering utility bills.
These findings come from a new study, “Economic, Utility Portfolio, and Rate Impact of Clean Energy Development in North Carolina,” commissioned by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA).
Renewables and energy efficiency have made the state a beacon among Southern economies by creating tens of thousands of new jobs, saving millions of megawatt hours (MWh) of energy, and generating billions in state revenue since 2007.
Three key state policies have driven this growth according to NCSEA – the state’s Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), which requires utilities to generate 12.5% of retail sales from renewables or efficiency measure by 2021; a 35% renewable energy tax credit; and the Utility Savings Initiative, which supports energy efficiency projects in public buildings.
Big Government And Ratepayer Savings
The biggest winner in North Carolina’s clean energy surge seems to be the bottom line – for both government and ratepayers. Between 2007 and 2012, the entire state saved an estimated 8.2 million MWh of energy, roughly equal with annual electricity consumption for the 1.3 million people living in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Fayetteville.
During that same five-year period, energy efficiency measures saved government entities $427 million dollars, while every dollar invested in tax incentives returned $1.87 in state or local revenue. And, by 2026 the state’s clean energy transition will save electricity customers $173 million more than they would have paid if the three driving policies weren’t in place.
Surging Investments Generate Green Jobs
The clean energy transition is also generating serious economic benefits. Investment in renewables and energy efficiency has increased 13-fold since 2007, creating $1.7 billion in direct benefits and $2.56 billion in associated spending across the state’s economy. Unsurprisingly, solar power hit grid parity last year in several regions.
While North Carolina’s Research Triangle has become a Silicon Valley for smart grid technology, the clean energy wave has spilled across the state. Over $100 million of new investment has occurred in three counties each – Davidson, Robeson, and Person – not to mention new plans for the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi River.
All this investment has created thousands of good jobs while the economy has slowed. North Carolina saw a net gain of 21,162 job years since 2007 from clean energy development, during the same period the state lost 100,000 overall jobs.
Indeed, NCSEA’s 2012 Clean Energy Industries Census estimated over 15,200 full-time green jobs existed at 1,100 companies across 86 of the state’s 100 counties, with those companies generating $3.7 billion in annual revenue.
A Bright Spot In Slow Southern Economies?
Taken as a whole, the transition to a clean energy future has become an economic driver for the Tar Heel state, and is “positioning North Carolina’s clean energy industry as a top national and global competitor,” said Ivan Urlaub, NCSEA Executive Director. “These policies are making all North Carolina industries more cost competitive and keeping more money in our state economy.”
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.