When more than a dozen local chamber and economic development leaders met with legislators at the North Carolina State Capitol last month, one chamber CEO explained why chambers are increasingly interested in new energy sources:
"We have a lot of wind and a lot of sun but not a lot of jobs," said Sharon Gibbs, President of the Hyde County Chamber of Commerce, a rural community three hours east of Raleigh.
That sentiment is echoed by other communities in North Carolina, where there is a desire to attract some of the growing clean energy jobs and investments that are going to other parts of North Carolina, and to other states. For example:
- The Elizabeth City Area has reaped the benefits of more than $18 million in investments and $1.1 million annually in landowner payments and taxes from wind energy projects.
- Currituck County has seen $500,000 in annual tax revenue that a new solar farm is bringing to the community.
- In total, $6.4 billion in revenue and more than 34,000 jobs were brought to the state by clean energy in 2016, according to a NC Sustainable Energy Association report.
But when these 14 chamber and economic development leaders traveled to the capitol to meet with a dozen legislators for a briefing and luncheon conversation on the opportunities in clean energy, they also learned about some of the obstacles preventing further economic growth in this field.
Some North Carolina counties, for example, have imposed bans on solar development in 2017. And the legislature recently included a moratorium on wind development in the new energy reform bill, Competitive Energy Solutions for North Carolina (HB 589)—a move that would put an end to two planned wind projects worth $500 million in Tyrrell, Chowan, and Perquimans counties, said Katharine Kollins, President of the Southeastern Wind Coalition. In addition, Kollins estimates that the state lost the potential for another $2.5 billion from projects not yet proposed.
“All progression is met with resistance,” said Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-1, Chowan) whose district includes the counties that would benefit from the $500 million wind projects. “We are going to use this [clean energy] opportunity to better the lives of those in Northeastern North Carolina, or we are going to walk away from this opportunity and lose it forever.”