Report: North Carolina 4th nationally in total solar electric capacity

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Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center

Raleigh, NC. –North Carolina ranked 4th nationally for total solar electric capacity, and 9th per capita, according to a new report, Lighting the Way III: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2014 by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

Lighting the Way III found that it was not North Carolina’s “long summer days” that put the state on the map among the Top 5 leaders in the renewable energy sector. Like in many states, policies are what lay the groundwork for leadership in energy innovation and investments. North Carolina’s renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standard (REPS) law is what opened the door on solar, other renewable energy sources and energy efficiency programs beginning in 2008, along with the renewable energy investment tax credit (REITC) as a vital financing mechanism. These clean energy policies have allowed limited market competition in North Carolina’s highly-regulated, monopoly-controlled electricity market and the resulting economic benefits are now being felt by North Carolinians in every region of the state.

North Carolina’s pro-solar policies, like the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard and the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit have allowed us to become a national leader in the clean energy economy,” said Rachel Morales, Clean Energy Organizer with Environment North Carolina. “Rather than undoing policies that are clearly working, we should be looking for additional ways to build on our solar success.”

North Carolina has maintained its leadership status in solar because of broad public support and high demand from consumers in the public and private sectors. The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association notes that North Carolina is currently home to more than 1,200 clean energy businesses. According to study done by RTI International, clean energy has brought an estimated $4.7 billion to the state’s economy.

The report shows that solar friendly policies are the largest factor in solar growth. While, sunny states like California and Arizona are at the top with 10,000 and 2,000 MW installed respectively, New Jersey and Massachusetts also make the list. New Jersey ranks third with roughly 50% more solar capacity than North Carolina.

“North Carolina’s policies have allowed us to become a national leader in the energy sources of the 21st century. Last year, we had nearly 23,000 full-time equivalent employees in the clean energy sector and the rate of growth in this sector significantly outpaces the overall economy,” said Representative Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), “But there is room to do more to catch states like Arizona and New Jersey, which is why we need to maintain our existing policies and start discussing, ‘what’s next?’”

Solar energy capacity tripled across the US in the last three years and is adding jobs 20 times faster than the overall economy. Solar has created 5,600 full-time positions in North Carolina since 2014.

“I’m currently working on a large solar project in Eastern North Carolina,” said Carson Harkrader, Project Manager with Carolina Solar Energy. “The county currently receives $3,800 per year in land taxes for the property. Tax receipts to the county once the solar farm is installed will go up to around $170,000 per year. The local town is considering annexing the property once the solar farm is installed, which would additional new annual tax revenue of over $125,000 to the town. This town has a total annual tax income of $500,000 currently, so its revenue will go up by over 20%. This one solar project will make a huge impact for this town and county, and will not require any new roads or services. ”

This report comes as North Carolina’s General Assembly debates extending the renewable energy investment tax credit, which is currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2015, and potential changes to the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standard (REPS).  

H.B. 760, which was sponsored by Reps. Chris Millis, Dennis Riddell, and John Bell and passed the House in May, would freeze the REPS law at its current 6% level and make dramatic changes to existing regulatory rules for renewable energy project contracts normally set by the NC Utilities Commission. If approved by both Chambers, the changes in HB 760 may cripple North Carolina’s growth in solar and other renewable energy sources. (Note: Many of these anti-clean energy provisions are also found in HB332 and HB681.)

“I’ve seen solar and other renewable energy projects have a positive economic impact not only across the state, but also in my district. In the last year, dozens of renewable energy projects have been proposed in the greater Charlotte Region, plus many of the companies are based in our area. We’ve seen a significant return on investment from policies like the renewable energy investment tax credit, so it makes sense to maintain these policies, and I remain determined that we will include an extension of this credit in our final budget,” said Representative Charles Jeter (R-Mecklenburg). “As we see here today, clean energy is an issue that brings together Republicans, Democrats and Independents.”

“I represent Halifax and Northampton counties, which are both Tier I counties and ranked by our Department of Commerce as the most economically distressed areas of our state,” said Representative Michael Wray (D-Northampton). “Since I was elected in 2004, one of my top priorities has been creating new economic development opportunities and jobs in northeastern North Carolina. And, in the last several years, renewable energy projects like solar, have been one of the leaders in creating new jobs, business opportunities and much-needed, tax revenues for our local governments. As a member of the Main Street Democrats, we believe very strongly that we must keep our existing clean energy policies in place, including a continuation of the renewable energy investment tax credit. If we don’t, our rural communities will suffer even more.”

The REPS law and REITC, could also help the state meet reduction targets outlined in the Clean Power Plan. According to Environment North Carolina research, solar power could account for nearly three-quarters of the 36% pollution reduction target required by the EPA’s recently finalized plan.