WTE Contributes to North Carolina’s Revenue, Employment Growth

WTE Contributes to North Carolina’s Revenue, Employment Growth

The clean energy industry in North Carolina is having a big impact on the state’s economy and job growth, according to a recent report released from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the state’s clean energy programs. The 2014 Clean Energy Industry Census shows that the state experienced a 15 percent annual increase in revenues generated by clean energy activities since 2012, accounting for almost 23,000 full-time employees and 1,200 clean energy firms.

Allison Eckley, communications coordinator of the NCSEA, sat down with Waste360 to discuss the report’s findings and what they mean for the future of waste to energy projects in North Carolina.

Waste360: What were some of the highlights of your report/findings?

Allison Eckley: Driven largely by the state’s market-based clean energy policies, North Carolina was recently named one of the fastest growing markets for clean energy solutions, and is ranked the second largest swine farming state. As North Carolina continues to see growing success in the biomass sector, with animal waste, poultry litter-to-energy and swine-waste-to-energy projects, the state’s foundational policies have made it possible for the industry and the agriculture sector to collaborate and innovate these technologies that are contributing to the state’s economic development and clean energy success.

The NC Sustainable Energy Association’s (NCSEA) 2014 Clean Energy Industry Census reveals a number of promising and powerful insights about the state’s incredible revenue and economic growth.

Specifically, North Carolina has experienced approximately 15 percent annual increase in revenues generated by clean energy activities since 2012, reaching $4.8 billion in gross revenues in 2014, up $1.2 billion from 2013. The Census also reports significant job growth in 2014, accounting for 22,995 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees in North Carolina and more than 1,200 firms.

Most importantly, these findings reaffirm the state’s flourishing clean energy industry’s role in driving the state’s economy, experiencing an annual growth of approximately 25 percent since 2012–outpacing the growth of other industries in the state.

Waste360: What were some of the surprises?

Allison Eckley: The biomass sector reported the most positive outlook for growth in 2015, with 35 percent of firms in this sector expecting to hire this year. In addition to the success seen in the solar and biomass sectors, what’s happening in North Carolina with regard to building efficiency has been phenomenal.

In this year’s Census, the greatest amount of activity has been in building construction, with almost half (49 percent) of employment in clean energy in North Carolina being in efficiency. That sector also accounts for 39 percent of revenue in clean energy, with design and construction of new buildings being a primary driver.  This is excellent news as new construction not only indicates a resurging economy, but also that a greater share of construction is more energy efficient than what we’ve seen in years past.

These findings are proof that the clean energy is no longer a niche industry. There are now solar farms, LEED certified buildings, waste-to-energy systems and electric vehicle fueling stations in every corner of the state, including the biomass, wind and fuel cell sectors.

Waste360: Is this an annual report? If so, how long has the NCSEA been doing it?

Allison Eckley: The NC Sustainable Energy Association has produced our Clean Energy Industry Census annually since 2008. In 2005, policy makers put forth the foundation of renewable energy regulation policy with clear expectations that development would happen and it became evident that the state needed a reliable way to measure the effects of these policies.

With that in mind, The NCSEA created the Census in 2008 to help measure the impact of North Carolina’s clean energy policies and identify where policy is and is not achieving the results that policymakers, economic developers and industry members originally envisioned. The first of its kind nationally, the Census has become an invaluable resource for stakeholders around the state and beyond, presenting analysis on employment, revenues, geographic presence, export activity, and business climate in the industry.

In 2008, NCSEA identified and surveyed 486 firms comprising the renewable energy and energy efficiency supply chain in North Carolina, reporting 2,144 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the state. As testament to the demand and appetite for clean energy initiatives, technologies and policies, the 2014 Census surveyed 1,208 firms, reporting 22,995 FTE jobs in the state.

Waste360: How is the data collected? Who participates?

Allison Eckley: The 2014 Census results stem from the direct findings of self-reported data provided by 567 responding firms and 641 modeled firms operating within North Carolina, for a total of 1,208 firms currently conducting clean energy related business in North Carolina. These firms represent a significant portion of the state’s clean energy industry, but certainly do not cover all activity. The conservative nature of the analysis means that the true economic impact of the clean energy industry in North Carolina is larger than what is presented in the 2014 Census.

Additionally, the level of granularity allows for the analysis of the activities being conducted within each clean energy sector of North Carolina’s economy. Data in the report is presented in aggregate in order to protect the privacy of responding firms, and includes a conservative modeling of firms that did not respond but are anticipated to be active in North Carolina’s clean energy industry.

Waste360: What makes the state of NC different from the others when it comes to waste-to-energy?

Allison Eckley: What makes North Carolina’s clean energy landscape different from others is it operates under a fully regulated energy market.  The utilities are vertically integrated into the market, meaning North Carolina does not have an independent system operator that oversees and manages wires separate from utilities. At a very basic level, this means consumers are unable to sell renewable power to anyone but the utility, limiting innovation, market competition and financing options.

In terms of waste-to-energy-management, energy policies, such as the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (REITC) enable businesses to invest upfront in clean energy equipment and services, and alleviate the per unit costs cost through state incentives and tax credits.  Adopted in 1999, the REITC increases the diversity of electricity generation resources to protect against variable fossil fuel and nuclear costs and provides renewable energy companies with sufficient market opportunities to attract needed investment. In fact, over $2 billion has been directly invested in renewable energy projects between 2007 and 2013, leading to an economic impact of nearly $3.7 billion.

Waste360: Is the state setting the standard?

Allison Eckley: Set to expire at the end of 2015, the state’s REITC tax credits and incentives are crucial to economic development and continued job growth. As an industry leader, North Carolina’s recently introduced legislation, Senate Bill 447, proposes renewing the REITC law. Specifically, the bill extends current REITC provisions for technologies including geothermal heating, anaerobic digestion, wind, combined heat and power, small scale solar and biomass for five years, with a two year extension proposed for large solar PV (projects defined as greater than 1 MW).

Additionally, with the August 2007 inception of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS), North Carolina became the 25th state―and the first in the southeast―to enact such a policy requiring the state’s electric power providers to generate a portion of our electricity needs through renewable energy resources and energy efficiency. Under the REPS, utilities such as Duke Energy must generate 12.5 percent of their energy needs through renewable resources or energy savings measures. Since the adoption of the REPS law and state tax incentives, North Carolina’s renewable energy and energy efficiency industries have boomed.

Waste360: How is the state of North Carolina benefitting from WTE?

Allison Eckley: North Carolina is home to six waste-to-energy systems which account for a total of 1.96 MW. Under current REITC legislation, 21 different technologies qualify for the tax credit, including swine and poultry waste-to-energy systems, landfill gas installations, and geothermal systems. In a highly regulated energy market, the REITC levels the playing field for these technologies, making them more accessible to customers that demand them, improving North Carolina’s business climate and providing lasting energy infrastructure for North Carolina’s rural communities. In fact, more than $1.9 billion has been invested in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties alone. REITC spurred investments are delivering a strong return to these communities, with a reported $1.54 in state or local government revenue generated for each $1 of incentive since 2007.

According to NCSEA’s Economic Impact Analysis of Clean Energy Development in North Carolina – 2014 Update, of the $2,672.5 million invested in clean energy development in North Carolina between 2007 and 2013, more than $122 million of direct renewable energy investment occurred in the biomass sector. These investments were supported in part by the state government at an estimated cost of $135.2 million, with clean energy projects 20 times as large as the state incentives for them.

Waste360: What can be attributed to that success of WTE in North Carolina?

Allison Eckley: In addition to the state’s tax credit, North Carolina’s strong agriculture industry has also contributed to the state’s clean energy success – North Carolina has more hogs than people.

In fact, it is the only state to require a small percentage of power generation from swine waste. An estimated 15,500 Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) were generated from six swine waste projects in 2014, according to the North Carolina Pork Council. Through anaerobic digesters, the electricity contributes to on-site savings for heating greenhouses, water and barns. While the energy production is currently small in comparison to solar, the overall capacity and growth opportunity for waste-to-energy production is promising.

Waste360: What does the report show for the future?

Allison Eckley: The report shows the state’s ambition to arrive at a much more diverse clean energy portfolio that is affordable, accessible in the market and resilient. By enacting such policies and supporting the community interest in clean energy development, the nation will continue along a growth trajectory for a sustainable globally competitive economy.  Census data points to significant energy growth across all renewable sectors, more stakeholder collaboration and a clean energy future that is not only better off, but thriving.

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