Duke University Documents Widespread Benefits of North Carolina’s Solar Economy

North Carolina’s number-one ranking in the Southeast for solar energy investment confirms the state is a national leader in attracting clean energy companies and creating jobs. But a top ranking does not fully reflect the broad range of benefits North Carolina’s large-scale solar industry is delivering to the state’s manufacturing sectors and rural communities.

Now a report from Duke University documents how the state’s solar industry is boosting the bottom line of companies and communities across North Carolina.

The Solar Economy: Widespread Benefits for North Carolina credits state policies such as the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit with stimulating economic development.

It highlights a recent economic impact assessment by RTI International showing that for every dollar of Investment Tax Credit redeemed by businesses, $1.93 has been returned to state and local governments. That’s a great deal for North Carolina.

The report spotlights three key findings:

1. Business friendly policies are spurring solar growth.

North Carolina has about the same amount of sunshine as South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida — but it’s outshining its neighbors in solar investment. The reason is simple: business-friendly state policies passed by lawmakers have encouraged economic development and job growth.

As a result, the state’s solar industry and its suppliers now employ 4,300 workers at 450 companies — representing over $2 billion of direct investment in the state.

2. Rural areas are harvesting benefits.

North Carolina has 100 counties and over half are already receiving economic benefits from the solar industry. Duke University’s report underscores the importance of the industry to the state’s rural areas, whether high in the mountains, in the rolling piedmont hills, or the flat coastal plain.

Many of the state’s rural counties are economically challenged, with little job growth in decades. Catawba, Robeson, and Wayne Counties, for example, are rural communities highlighted in the report whose residents and tax base increasingly benefit from solar installations.

3. The solar industry is helping drive job growth in manufacturing and construction.

North Carolina’s solar economy includes more than just traditional solar companies. A long list of businesses and individuals participate in the lifecycle of a solar project and prosper as the industry expands, including:

  • Solar panel manufacturers, such as DuPont in Fayetteville
  • Manufacturers of solar panel components, including Schletter racking systems in Shelby and Torpedo Specialty Wire in Rocky Mount
  • Solar developers and construction firms, such as Horne Brothers in Fayetteville
  • Investors, including big names like Bank of America in Charlotte and Blue Cross & Blue Shield in Durham
  • Landowners, such as those in Catawba, Robeson, and Wayne counties who receive a predictable income stream by leasing their property to solar developers

One case study in the report caught my attention because it shows how many businesses are involved in a solar installation. In 2011, a 4.4 megawatt solar farm was built in Mount Airy, a community best known as the birthplace of Andy Griffith, the legendary small town TV sheriff from Mayberry, NC.

In real life, Mount Airy — located in Surry County — is one of the most economically distressed areas of the state and has struggled to attract and retain business investment and jobs. That’s why residents cheered when O2 Energies, a Cornelius-based solar developer, decided to invest millions of dollars in a solar farm in Surry County. O2 Energies engaged a number of other in-state companies to bring the project to reality:

  • Charlotte-based NARENCO designed and constructed the solar farm.
  • DCE Solar in Huntersville fabricated the ground-mount system that holds up the solar panels.
  • Surrey Bank & Trust in Mount Airy provided financing.
  • Surry Community College provided workforce training and helped secure local labor during the 16-week construction period.

The story of this Surry County solar farm is not unique. Every solar project installed in North Carolina involves scores of companies and workers, creating a positive ripple effect in the economy and adding to the local tax base.

The Duke University report provides strong evidence that the solar industry is moving North Carolina in the right direction, at the right time – and with the right policies in place.

This article was originally published on EDF Energy Exchange and was republished with permission.

Lead image: North Carolina flag via Shutterstock

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Greg Andeck leads strategy development and outreach to leading companies, regulators and policymakers to advance the EDF Clean Energy Program's objectives in the Southeast. His work accelerates investment in clean energy and fosters a modern, intelligent, interactive electricity system.

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