70 Carolina Chamber Leaders and Rep. Saine Discuss How to Seize the Clean Energy Opportunity

As a Republican policymaker and a father, North Carolina Rep. Jason Saine told 70 chamber leaders last month that he wants his state to take advantage of a clean energy opportunity almost as great as California’s. But it will need better energy policies to make that happen.

“Knowing what we have and can offer in terms of our economy, we’re really ripe and look a lot like California,” Rep. Saine said. “We’ve just got to make sure we can convince legislators that we need policies in place that will reflect that.”

Rep. Saine addressed the audience of chamber leaders from North and South Carolina at the annual conference of the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Karen Brown, President and CEO of the Outer Banks Chamber, said her chamber recently took an official position in support of offshore wind energy. “We’re always looking for clean energy and clean ways of doing things,” she said.

Question-and-answer highlights

Q: “What if your community does not yet have wind or solar projects? How can a chamber start the conversation?”

A: “You need to make the business case,” said Rep. Saine. As companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook invest more in clean energy, talking about clean energy in terms of economic development makes sense, he said.

“But if we’re going to lure companies here, and we want to—we want to beat South Carolina because we both benefit from that competition—then we are going to have to adjust policies to accommodate that.”

Q: “How can a chamber maintain good relations with local power companies?”

“This is about incremental change,” said Maggie Clark, Southeast State Affairs Manager of SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association. “When you talk about it like that, I think utilities are most likely to accept that instead of a vast policy change.”

The panel, organized by Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, was moderated by Aaron Nelson, CEO and President of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber, and also featured Katharine Kollins, President of the Southeastern Wind Coalition.