Guest Opinion: Growing North Carolina’s clean energy future

Published 4:01 pm Saturday, October 10, 2020

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By Bob Steinburg

Clean energy in the form of wind and solar power is a vital component of North Carolina’s economy — and is critical to our recovery after the slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Although we have made significant progress as a state to grow our clean energy economy and workforce, the pandemic has resulted in some significant setbacks. These challenges are not impossible to overcome, but they are best met with clear direction and support from Congress.

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Before the pandemic, North Carolina’s clean energy economy was on the rise. By the end of 2019, our state’s clean energy workforce had grown to nearly 113,000 men and women in fields ranging from wind and solar energy to energy efficiency to grid modernization. Among the 50 states, North Carolina ranked 9th in the number of clean energy jobs, and job growth in this sector grew more than 5% from 2017 to 2019.

Since COVID-19 changed everything beginning in March, almost 18% of North Carolina’s clean energy workers have filed for unemployment. That’s more than 20,000 people still out of a job today. These figures are even more dire than the national trend. Nationally, close to half a million out of 3.3 million clean energy workers are jobless.

We already know the immense economic value that clean energy can bring to our state; we have seen this potential come to fruition with the Amazon Wind Project, North Carolina’s first utility-scale wind farm, in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. The largest wind farm in the Southeast, this project and other clean energy initiatives like it are helping to inject much-needed tax revenue and provide substantial landowner payments in largely rural, economically challenged counties.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind projects in our state contribute $1 million a year in state and local taxes, while annual lease payments for landowners total $1.4 million.

In fact, the company that operates the Amazon wind farm has grown to be one of the largest taxpayers in the state, providing more than $500,000 in annual local taxes that benefit local communities and their economies. Landowners involved in that project receive an additional $6,000 in lease payments annually for each turbine on their property.

Continuing to develop our clean energy resources will help create more 21st century jobs while growing a strong, resilient economy that benefits all North Carolinians. Strong leadership has allowed North Carolina to seize its clean energy opportunities thus far.

Steinburg, an Edenton Republican, represents District 1 in the N.C. Senate.