North Carolina’s innovative, forward-thinking clean energy policies are essential for growing the economy. Policies created in anticipation of a boom in renewable energy incentivized local businesses to help pave the way for a thriving solar industry, which has created jobs and provided a competitive edge over neighboring states. Now, North Carolina must stay the course to realize the full economic potential of clean energy. Allowing the state’s nascent wind energy industry to grow and flourish is a prime example.
Strong clean energy policies spur private clean energy investments. Thanks to early leadership that recognized the long-term economic benefits, North Carolina is currently second in the nation in installed utility-scale solar, trailing only California and boasting more than 7,000 solar jobs and over $5.5 billion in local investments. In 2017, the General Assembly wisely passed legislation intended to add a significant amount (6,800-plus megawatts) of solar energy to the grid and enhance the ability of North Carolina companies to access local renewable energy.
While solar has thrived in North Carolina, however, wind energy remains largely untapped. The unfortunate 18-month moratorium on new wind energy projects further cripples the industry’s potential. North Carolina needs transparency and consistency for all infrastructure projects, including wind. Allowing the moratorium to expire at the end of 2018 would open the door for increased investments and unlock significant economic growth, in rural counties in particular.
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Like solar, wind can play an important role in growing North Carolina’s clean energy economy. New construction from wind farm development brings high-paying jobs and a reliable source of income to rural communities and small businesses who need it most, while also helping diversify the state’s energy portfolio and increase its energy independence.
North Carolina’s only wind farm, the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East in northeastern North Carolina, is a perfect example of how a large-scale renewable energy project can bring enormous economic benefits to a local community. In just one year, Perquimans and Pasquotank counties received $640,000 in property taxes from the 104-turbine wind farm. That revenue translates directly to funding for schools, local infrastructure, and emergency services.
At Arjuna Capital, based here in Durham, we look for ways to encourage sustainable investing in clean energy because we know it makes smart business sense, while supporting long-term viability. Across the state, we have seen an increase in big companies looking for ways to procure and use renewable energy. Major businesses with operations in North Carolina, such as Dow Chemical, Mars Inc., Nestle, Procter & Gamble, and Walmart, have already invested in wind farms across the U.S. and are enjoying the cost savings. By making wind energy more accessible, North Carolina can become an even more attractive destination for these companies as they decide where to expand their operations.
But North Carolina can only build on the success of the Amazon wind farm and take advantage of additional clean energy opportunities with the right policies in place. The General Assembly’s current moratorium on wind energy projects is a roadblock to corporate clean energy investments. Bad policy like this limits free-market competition, suspends new investment opportunities, and prevents businesses, universities, the military, and communities from reaping the economic benefits of new clean energy projects.
Smart clean energy policies are crucial for North Carolina to attract and retain the growing number of businesses looking to procure renewable energy and drive additional clean energy investment. If we are to continue growing the state’s clean energy investments, lawmakers must prioritize clean energy as an important driver of economic growth. Allowing the wind moratorium to expire is an essential step toward this growth.
Natasha Lamb is managing partner Arjuna Capital in Durham. Arjuna is a member of the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability.