A new “Clean Jobs” report released in July notes that North Carolina is among the top 10 states in the country across clean energy categories such as solar energy, energy efficiency, and overall clean energy.
The report, released by E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), notes that the rate of clean energy jobs across the country increased by 3.6 percent in 2018. North Carolina’s clean energy jobs grew by 3.5 percent — nearly double the statewide employment growth of 1.9 percent — and those jobs now account for more than half of North Carolina’s entire energy sector workforce of 212,172. A majority of the growth was in clean vehicles, but the state still boasts as a “pioneer” in solar energy, ranking number two in the country for installed solar.
Chatham County ranks in the middle of the pack of 100 counties in the state per capita for clean energy jobs. In total, Chatham County had 451 clean energy jobs at the end of 2018, including 126 in renewable energy and 295 in energy efficiency.
Many of those jobs are related to solar energy — a technology that Chatham County has made a priority investment — earning a Gold Award, the highest designation, from the national SolSmart Program earlier this year. Chatham County joined Asheville and Carrboro as the only local governments in the state that earned the Gold Award.
In addition to rooftop solar on residences and businesses, Chatham boasts 12 solar farm projects. Five of those projects are in Siler City — two were built and managed by Strata Solar, two were built and managed by Cypress Creek, and one by United Renewable. Two projects in Pittsboro were built and managed by Strata Solar. And of the five solar farms built in other areas of the county, four were constructed by Strata solar and the remaining one was built and managed by Cypress Creek.
Solar farms don’t necessarily bring long-term jobs beyond the construction, according to Chatham’s Economic Development Corporation President Alyssa Byrd. However, she notes that “solar installations generate new tax revenue for our municipalities, which is a long-term impact.” According to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, Chatham County tax revenue for parcels that installed solar increased by 871 percent once complete.
“This data does not include business personal property tax paid on public utility-owned solar equipment,” N.C. Sustainable Energy Association’s report reads. “Public utilities are taxed by the North Carolina Department of Revenue, which passes tax dollars back to the counties. The counties receive this tax as a lump sum and do not have visibility to the amount of tax paid on a specific public utility asset.”
While that percentage seems high, it actually only ranks 34th in the state for the amount of solar energy capacity that has been developed here. Other counties, especially those that are economically depressed, saw property tax increases around 4000 percent after the installation of solar.
Property owners that wish to “sit” on land for an extended period of time have few options for long-term investment. Often the land’s timbering rights are sold to provide some income during lean times for the owner. Solar farms may provide an alternative that not only preserves the land and supports clean technology, but can provide income.
Solar companies that manufacture and manage solar farms do so by entering into long-term, often 30-year leases, with property owners. The company provides the initial capital for the construction and up-keep. The company also pays the land owners rent for the duration of the lease. Once the lease period expires, the land owner has the option to either renew the lease or decide to end the contract. If they choose not to renew, the solar company will disassemble the solar farm, leaving the land in a similar condition as would be for agriculture.
In 2017, the Chatham County Board of Commissioner passed a resolution pledging a goal of 100 percent clean energy and the creation of green jobs by 2050. As clean energy jobs grow in North Carolina, it is likely that Chatham County will continue to strive to be a leader in the state.
Reporter Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.
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