North Carolina racks up new clean-energy jobs amid anti-renewables assault

At the same time some of its politicians are trying to repeal the state's renewable energy standard, North Carolina is emerging as a national leader in creating clean-energy jobs thanks to that law.

A report released this week by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) found that North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation in the creation of new clean energy and transportation projects in the first quarter of 2013. E2 is a group of business leaders affiliated with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The group tallied five new projects in the state, including Strata Solar's planned 100-megawatt solar farm in rural Duplin County that's expected to create as many as 400 jobs and power about 12,000 homes.

E2's announcement comes as legislation to repeal North Carolina's renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS) appears dead for now in the General Assembly, having failed to pass either the House or Senate by the deadline to keep non-budgetary bills alive. However, one of its sponsors -- Rep. Mike Hager, a Rutherford County Republican and former Duke Energy engineer -- said he plans to continue the repeal effort in a commission expected to be formed soon to study state energy policy.

The REPS repeal has been a priority of national conservative groups, many with financial ties to fossil-fuel interests. It was blocked in North Carolina by a coalition of Democratic lawmakers and Republicans who support the REPS for its job-creating potential.

Nine of the top 10 states for clean energy and clean transportation job announcements tracked by E2 in the first quarter have REPS laws on the books. E2 Executive Director Judith Albert says that's no accident.

"These policies are doing exactly what they"re supposed to do," she said. "Create jobs and create clean, renewable energy that helps both our economy and our environment."

Massachusetts led the nation in clean-energy job creation potential in the first quarter, with two new projects announced expected to create 4,000 jobs. California came in second and Indiana third, followed by North Carolina in fourth place. The rest of the top 10 were Michigan, Nevada, Texas, Maryland, Hawaii and Minnesota.

This marks the fourth time North Carolina made E2's quarterly top 10 list for clean-energy job creation. The only other states to do so are Texas and California. E2 also ranked North Carolina second in green job creation in 2012, trailing only California.

The same day E2 released its report, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) announced that he proclaimed June as Solar Energy Month in the state. McCrory spoke at Strata Solar's Fuquay Farm in Willow Spring, N.C., a 6.4-megawatt solar installation just south of the state capital of Raleigh. McCrory is a former longtime executive with Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, which has been supportive of the state's REPS law.

"North Carolina is home to one of the fastest growing solar industries in our nation," said McCrory. "It is important that we recognize the impact the solar industry is making in our state, not only in terms of being another valuable piece to an 'all-of-the-above' energy plan, but also the high-quality jobs the industry creates for hardworking North Carolinians."