Perdue outlines energy proposal

Spending aimed to boost jobs, too

Staff writerMay 22, 2009 

— Gov. Beverly Perdue announced plans Thursday to make North Carolina more energy efficient and to create more jobs connected to the so-called green economy.

Perdue proposed investing more public money in private alternative energy startup companies and making state government more energy efficient.

"Developing a green economy has been one of the cornerstones of why I wanted to be governor," Perdue said.

Perdue, a Democrat, said the proposals were part of a campaign promise she made in 2008 to create more jobs in North Carolina for projects such as weatherizing homes and businesses and making the equipment needed for alternative energy such as solar power. To achieve her goals, Perdue can rely on millions of dollars of federal stimulus money coming into the state that is earmarked for environmentally friendly projects.

Her proposals include:

Establish a revolving loan fund to provide low-interest or no-interest loans to finance energy-saving projects at businesses, local governments, schools and elsewhere. It will be financed with $18 million in federal stimulus money.

Expand an existing fund to award competitive grants to businesses and organizations with innovative projects that are environmentally friendly. It would be financed by $10 million in federal stimulus money.

Reinvigorate the state Energy Policy Council, reducing the number of council members while increasing the representation of environmental groups and alternative energy producers. She also plans to name an energy adviser next week.

"By leveraging these federal recovery dollars," Perdue said, "I believe we can serve as a jump-start to North Carolina's green economy."

Perdue made the announcement on a solar farm started by SAS, the Cary software company. With 5,040 solar panels, the site is one of the three largest solar farms in North Carolina. Perdue stepped gingerly in her high heels among the droppings of a herd of sheep, which are used to maintain the grass at the solar farm.

Many alternative energies, such as solar power, are still in their infancy. The SAS solar farm, which began operations in December and sells its energy to Progress Energy, produces one megawatt of energy at peak, or enough to power 150 households at any one time. SAS co-founder John Sall said it would eliminate the need for 1,600 tons of carbon emissions.

Sall said that without government assistance, such as tax incentives, private companies cannot afford to build solar farms, biofuel facilities and offshore wind farms.

In 2008, there were more than 6,400 North Carolina jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy, but that number could rapidly grow by the tens of thousands, according to Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.

In 2007, North Carolina had less than 1 megawatt of solar power being produced, Urlaub said. By 2008, it rose to 4.7 megawatts. By the end of 2010, it is predicted that at least 30megawatts of solar power will be produced in North Carolina.

Urlaub said North Carolina was the leader in the South on solar energy, and one of the top 10 states in the country.

But it is still a small percentage of North Carolina's energy needs. The state routinely uses 15,000 megawatts to meet its power needs. That's the equivalent of 15,000 SAS solar farms.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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