North Carolina's Future Looks Bright with Solar Energy

North Carolina's Future Looks Bright with Solar Energy

Thursday, February 19, 2015

North Carolina, which had almost no large-scale solar energy seven years ago, now ranks first in the Southeast and fourth in the nation in solar energy capacity, says a new report from Duke University.

"North Carolina is in an enviable position when it comes to solar power development,” said the report’s lead author, Lukas Brun, senior research analyst at Duke’s Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness (CGGC). “From being virtually non-existent in 2008, it is today the South’s leader in solar power. The result has been a growth in companies and employment in the industry, providing wide-spread benefits to the state."

A sunny climate, capable companies and investor- and business-friendly policies have combined to boost solar energy in the state. North Carolina now has 150 utility-scale solar facilities, with another 377 facilities planned.

The economic impact of N.C.’s solar industry extends beyond its solar facilities, though. The report describes a solar “value chain” of investors, solar developers, construction contractors and solar panel and component manufacturers comprising more than 450 companies. Together, these companies support some 4,300 jobs and represent a $2 billion investment. In addition to jobs, solar industry-related businesses provide income for landowners and tax revenue for N.C. towns, the report states.

Those economic benefits are spread across different regions of the state, including urban areas and rural counties such as Catawba, Robeson and Wayne, which lead the state in large-scale solar capacity.

Solar industry revenue benefits “very rural, poor parts of the state,” said John Morrison of Strata Solar, a solar business located in Chapel Hill, N.C. “And then there is what solar means to the landowners, the farmers, who are able to receive a long-term, fairly secure income for leasing a portion of their property for a solar farm.”

Uncertainty exists in North Carolina’s solar future, however. Three policy issues could affect North Carolina’s continued development of large-scale solar: the impending expiration of the state-level renewable energy tax credit at the end of 2015; the expected reduction of the federal investment tax credit from 30 percent to 10 percent at the end of 2016; and a backlog of 400 projects that is hindering timely completion of solar power projects.

Nevertheless, Morrison hopes North Carolina will remain a solar industry leader.

“North Carolina is good for solar, but solar is also very good for North Carolina,” Morrison said. “This includes not only the environmental benefits of solar, but also the economic benefits.”

The Environmental Defense Fund sponsored the research for the report.

To read the full report, visit: http://www.cggc.duke.edu/pdfs/02152015Duke_CGGC_NCSolarEnergyReport.pdf

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