Solar energy is growing fast in NC, but state restraints have stifled wind power

Clean energy is becoming an increasingly important part of North Carolina’s economy, a national report by an environmental organization released Tuesday shows, although it lags in some measures compared to other states.

The report measures North Carolina’s growth in wind and solar energy, electric energy efficiency programs, electric cars and energy storage. The North Carolina findings include:

North Carolina ranks third in the nation in the growth of solar energy production.

The state is 30th for wind energy, partly because of a moratorium imposed by the General Assembly.

It is 13th for improvements in electricity energy efficiency savings.

10th in electric vehicle charging stations.

17th in electrical vehicles sold.

20th in battery storage capacity.

There are about 1,000 clean energy companies in the state, with more than 34,000 full-time jobs and $6.4 billion in annual revenues, said Drew Ball, director of research and policy for Environment N.C., an advocacy group.

A decade ago, wind and solar accounted for about 1 percent of energy nationally; now they are enough to power 31 million homes. If those sectors continue to grow at just one-third of the current rate, the nation’s electricity needs will be met by 2035, according to the report.

Renewable energy is a bigger part of the economy but also contributes to a cleaner environment and health benefits such as prevention of asthma, heart attacks and lung cancer.

“This report should be uplifting news for anyone who cares about the health of North Carolina’s families and our economy,” Ball said.

The report was presented to reporters in a conference call with Ball and representatives of wind, clean energy and the state Department of Environmental Quality. It was co-authored by Frontier Group, a national public policy and research organization.

Jennifer Mundt, policy and innovation adviser for DEQ, attributed the growth to a 2007 state law that requires utilities to source a percentage of energy from renewable sources. As renewable programs develop, she said, the market drives costs down. She said once the current state moratorium on wind projects expires at the end of the year that sector will improve significantly.

Last year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law legislation promoting solar energy even though it contained an 18-month moratorium on wind projects that he opposed. At the same time, he issued an executive order clarifying that wind projects could proceed through initial permit stages despite the moratorium.

The bill was a wide-ranging alternative-energy plan that had been reached after months of negotiations among legislators, Duke Energy, environmentalists and others. The wind moratorium was a last-minute addition. It was included because Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, was concerned that tall wind turbines would interfere with military training flights.

There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts in the General Assembly to curtail the renewable energy requirements, including one last year that never advanced out of a committee.

Adam Forrer of the Southeastern Wind Coalition said at Tuesday’s news media call he was optimistic that the legislature will allow the moratorium to expire, since lawmakers didn’t bring it up during their session earlier this year. He said adequate safeguards are already part of the military’s review of wind projects.

“North Carolina has seen great success with the Amazon project, the region’s first large, utility-scale wind farm” in the northeastern part of the state, Forrer said. “As a state, we need to build on that success through forward-looking policy so that wind energy continues to be a part of our clean energy future.”