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Georgia Leading the Charge for the Clean Economy in the Southeast

This post was written in collaboration with Ben Taube, BLT Sustainable Energy, Inc.

In California it’s San Francisco. In New England, it’s Boston. Now, 2012 is proving that Georgia is rising as the cleantech epicenter of the South. This year we witnessed IKEA flip the switch on two large scale solar installations and Quality Technology Services announce a more than $1 million investment in solar for their Atlanta and Richmond data centers.  Meanwhile, Georgia Solar Utilities emerged to propose  building 90MWs of solar in Georgia, and selling it to Georgia Power, which itself has a 50 MW solar initiative.

Lehigh Technologies based in Tucker recently raised $5 million in an investment for their method of recycling post-industrial rubber into new materials. GenAgain Technologies set up shop in Lithia Springs to convert mixed waste plastics into synthetic crude oil.  If that’s not all, Savannah Technical College started offering new sustainable technology programs, this year, a first of their kind in Georgia.  

Another first in Georgia is the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference (Nov 11-13). It will play host to a prominent line-up of over 50 global cleantech speakers and an estimated 300 international clean economy executives.  VIP speakers and participants like Governor Nathan Deal, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, Savannah Mayor Edna Branch Jackson, AGL Resources CEO John W. Somerhalder II and Southern Company executives will all have an unprecedented opportunity to highlight the Georgia’s sustainable accomplishments and the state’s potential to become a major clean economy marketplace for both local and international companies.

The Georgian clean economy 2012 accomplishments are just the tip of the iceberg.  Even during the worst parts of the Great Recession, clean economy jobs grew at a rate of 3.7 percent. Today they total over 83,000 jobs, more than 2 percent of Georgia’s total workforce. However, if Georgia is to lead the Southeast in green jobs, more must be done to ensure that companies and jobs flourish and stay in Georgia.

Supporting the clean economy starts at the early-stage, and the “godfather of Atlanta angel investing” Sig Moseley co-founded CTW Venture Partners this year to fill what he and his partners see as a critical shortage in the Southeast of seed and early-stage capital. Standing for “Change The World” cleantech is one of the firm’s investment focuses.

With or without seed funding, companies still need business support and Georgia Tech has been doing an excellent job incubating and commercializing new innovations coming out of its incubation programs. Additionally, the Global Cleantech Cluster Association is fostering early and later stage companies locally and around the world, by networking together over 40 of the world’s leading cleantech clusters. Headquartered in Atlanta, the GCCA provides a gateway for established and emerging cleantech companies to gain exposure to potential investors, new markets, influential networks, innovative technologies and best practices. The group’s annual Later Stage Awards with over 200 global companies competing for 10 winning spots, sponsored by Deloitte and McGuire Woods, will be presented at the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference on November 12th.
 
Once established, clean and green companies thrive in Georgia. The state is home to a growing number of international solar companies including Suniva, Mage Solar and the solar mounting firm Renusol. Biomass is also winning here, as the state was listed as third in the nation in 2011 for energy generated by this alternative fuel source.

However, to truly rival Boston or San Francisco for cleantech status, the state must get serious about the four critical policies identified by The Pew Charitable Trusts that support a state’s clean economy. Currently, Georgia offers one them, financial incentives, which is an excellent start. The state should also encourage clean economic development by assessing policy options such as a renewable portfolio standard, energy efficiency resource standards, and options to allow for power purchase agreements. Of our 50 states, 30 have mandated renewable energy standards and 7 offer voluntary goals. In the Southeast, North Carolina mandates a clean energy goal.

According to the report “Sizing the Clean Economy” by the Brookings Institution, the clean economy added more than half a million jobs, between 2003 and 2010, nationally. Georgia is well on it’s way to solidifying it’s strong hold in the Southeast as a cleantech leader. But it can only capture that title, through diligent public policy and building momentum by consistently sharing its variety of success stories with the world. At the Savannah Clean Energy Conference, Governor Deal and others have a pivotal opportunity to impress on the international audience the strength of Georgia’s clean economy and its reliable potential for successful cleantech profitability in the 21st Century.

Lead image: Goergia via Shutterstock