Clean Energy Opportunities And Challenges In North Carolina

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NCSEA’s “Making Energy Work,”  in Charlotte, NC, Oct 1&2, 2014

 Originally published in the ECOreport

More than 600 local, regional and national attendees are expected at the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association’s 6th Annual Conference in Charlotte. “Making Energy Work” is a coming together of industry, utilities and customers, and they take that name very seriously. As Betsy McCorkle, NCSEA’s director of government affairs, explains, “This is a time to get together and identify some of the opportunities and challenges that we’re facing in North Carolina.”

The state’s clean energy sector has taken off since the passage of the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, which requires that 12.5% of North Carolina’s electricity come from renewable energy by 2020, was passed in 2007.

Solar panels with sheep - Carolina Solar Energy

There are currently nearly 20,000 people working in full time clean energy jobs across the state.

“We’re always impressed by the diversity of stakeholders at Making Energy Work,” McCorkle said. “Representation from the utilities, from universities, legal, finance, obviously clean energy developers and we try to structure the conference so that there is much opportunity for dialogue. It’s not necessarily sitting and listening, and taking notes and going home. We try to provide many opportunities for networking.”

Though most renewable energy projects are developed in the more rural areas of the state, Charlotte seemed like the ideal place for the conference.

“There is a lot of energy activity going on in that part of the state,” McCorkle explained. “So we really feel like we’ll have a great crowd that is able to identify what is happening that is not in the headlines.”

NCSEA-Betsy McCorkle
Betsy McCorkle

Many energy companies have their headquarters in Charlotte; it is also home to many clean energy research and development projects and education programs. McCorkle described UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) as “a hub for entrepreneurship and technology advancement.”

Some of the foremost business opportunities in the state come from the explosive growth of the solar sector. In North Carolina, there is currently 627 MW of solar capacity, more than half of which was installed last year. North Carolina ranked 2nd, in terms of installations, for 2013. Most were on houses, but there were also utility scale projects like Apple Data Center Solar Farm, Dogwood Solar Power Project, and Washington White Post Solar Project. 3,100 people are working in more than 140 solar companies across the state.

“The great thing about solar is there is a whole supply chain that has built up around this industry,” said McCorkle.

She gave the example of a fencing company which grew from 4 to 40 workers because of their involvement with two solar companies.

“There are examples like this all over the state, where small businesses grew because of the introduction of solar.”

NCSEA Infographic-Resources

“Regardless of political affiliation voters are supporting these technologies and they are asking for more flexibility to bring them online for their homes and businesses,” she said.

Though there are manufacturing centers for out-of-state development, there are no utility scale wind projects in North Carolina yet.

“A number utilities, up and down the East coast are collaborating on an offshore wind demonstration project,” said McCorkle. “It will be a small project to help people understand, what are the implications when it comes to wildlife, navigation, fisheries and being able to see these turbines from the beach?”

“These are questions that for a large majority of people remain unanswered,” she added. “There is still some uncertainty and the best way to deal with this is to try it. So the hope is to bring a demonstration project online off the coast of North Carolina, or South Carolina or Georgia to help localize this potential and hopefully allow this industry to grow and thrive in North Carolina.”

North Carolina does have a fair amount of activity in the biogas sector. The state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard requires that 0.2% of the state’s electricity comes from the swine waste-to-energy sector. Poultry waste contributes 150,000 MWh to the grid.

Some of the other discussions will range from international trade disputes to state policy.

MEW 2013 (4)

The overall goal of Making Energy Work is for people to walk away with a deeper understanding of what is happening in this complex energy ecosystem. This is a chance for stakeholders to see beyond their particular niche to the bigger picture.

“We are hoping to give people a forward looking knowledge that they can put to use in their jobs,” McCorkle said.

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

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