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The Solar Economy: Widespread Benefits for North Carolina

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from the Executive Summary: 

North Carolina is the South’s leader, and fourth among U.S. states, in using solar power to diversify its portfolio of electric power generation fuels. A sunny climate, investor and businessfriendly policies, and capable companies across the solar power value chain have made North Carolina’s leadership position possible. The benefits of being the South’s leader in solar power have accrued to North Carolinians across the state. All regions – West, Central and East – and both rural and urban areas have profited from solar power investments. North Carolinians also receive gains from the economic, environmental and social benefits of less-polluting electric power generation. To paraphrase one company executive we interviewed, North Carolina is good for solar, but solar has also been very good for North Carolina. While the present is bright, uncertainty exists in North Carolina’s solar future. Three policy issues affect the future of North Carolina’s continued development of large-scale solar: (1) the expiration on December 31, 2015 of the state-level renewable energy tax credit, which has been in place at some level since 1977; (2) the reduction of the federal investment tax credit from 30% to 10% on December 31, 2016; and (3) the backlog of interconnection agreement assessments acting as a block to the timely completion of solar power projects.

Key Findings:

Finding #1 Solar-friendly policies have made North Carolina No. 1 in the South and No. 4 in the country for installed solar investment. All parts of the solar value chain – investors, solar developers, construction contractors, solar panel and component manufacturers – are creating jobs and providing landowners, workers and towns across North Carolina with income and tax revenue.

◗ Despite having the same amount of sun exposure as other states in the South, North Carolina has attracted a disproportionate share of solar industry investment – as evidenced by its No. 1 ranking in the South and No. 4 ranking nationally – due to its solar business-friendly policies.

◗ North Carolina is well-positioned in all parts of the solar value chain, including investors (e.g., Bank of America of Charlotte and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Durham), developers (e.g., O2 Energies of Cornelius), construction contractors (e.g., Horne Brothers of Fayetteville), solar panel manufacturers (e.g., DuPont of Fayetteville), and component manufacturers (e.g., Schletter of Shelby for racking, ABB of Raleigh for inverters, and Torpedo Specialty Wire of Rocky Mount for electrical wiring).

◗ North Carolina is home to over 450 companies involved in the solar industry, and they support approximately 4,307 jobs and represent at least $2 billion of direct investment in the state.

Finding #2 The solar industry’s growth in North Carolina is providing jobs and economic development opportunities to all parts of the state, including rural areas that have struggled historically to create jobs and businesses.

◗ Utility-scale solar installations are growing from North Carolina’s mountains to the coast.

◗ Some of the highest levels of investment are occurring in North Carolina’s rural counties. Catawba, Robeson and Wayne are the leading counties in the state for utility-scale solar investment.

Finding #3 North Carolina’s ability to continue attracting companies in the solar industry, create jobs and promote economic development throughout the state is at risk unless policy makers act.

◗ Uncertainty surrounding the continuation of existing state policies has the potential to slow the growth of North Carolina’s utility-scale solar industry. The challenges include:  Expiration of the North Carolina Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit at the end of 2015.  Attempts to repeal the North Carolina Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS).  Interconnection bottlenecks that are slowing the ability of solar projects to connect to the grid.