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WNC Business

Market boom created by transitions to renewable resources

Sep 07, 2023 12:47PM ● By Randee Brown

A 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a priority on policy and regulatory advocacy, the NC Sustainable Energy Association is made up of members including local government entities, state universities, and large corporations concerned about how to enable better access to clean energy technology to reach environmental, social, and governance goals. Director of Marketing and Communications Matt Abele said a lot of companies that are “ground zero” for developing renewable energy deployed across the country are involved.

“The NCSEA advocates on behalf of these members to ensure regulatory mechanisms enable a fair playing field as opposed to maintaining a preference for incumbent technologies and utilities,” Abele said. “We make sure everyone is up to speed on what issues are top of mind in sustainable energy as well as what barriers exist, and what actionable items are recommended moving forward.”

Abele said the NCSEA is data-driven in terms of how they approach any situation, and their Energy Data Solutions Team is focused on research and results. The team actively tracks projects across the state to see where development is happening, how many jobs are being created, where investments are directed, and produces reports from this information.

The Association is noting a positive trend in the clean jobs report. Legislative mandates to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 70% by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050 require companies to scale up faster than ever before. This created a market boom in the renewable energy sector, according to Abele. Prior to Covid, the clean energy industry was the fastest-growing sector. There was not as much slowdown as other industries during the pandemic, and the industry has bounced back at an incredible rate, now growing at “breakneck speeds.” 

“This industry shows so much opportunity moving forward, and new businesses and new jobs keep coming,” Abele said. “Growth is accelerating quicker than anticipated with historic levels of federal investments, and companies can’t hire employees fast enough.”

New solar companies and thousands of new jobs are being created, as well as new opportunities including developing energy storage solutions and large battery manufacturing. There are also possibilities with offshore wind energy generation, which has the potential to bring in thousands of more jobs and new investments. The big concern, according to Abele, is finding talent to fill the roles necessary to meet the goals and targets for decarbonization.

The industry is responding really well in recognizing the importance of workforce development, and Abele said there is a lot of investment happening in that space. Recently, the US Department of Commerce awarded $23.7 million to NC Agricultural & State University for clean energy workforce development. The University has a number of partners including the state’s community college system and the NCSEA to build workforce development curriculum and apprenticeship programs across the state.

“We are working to help ensure the workforce of the industry’s future is diverse and equitable, and there’s lots of investment in that space,” Abele said. “There are more training programs at community colleges and universities across the state, and the industry is recognizing the strong shift and is dedicated to these programs.”

In WNC specifically, Abele said he has seen local governments spearhead efforts toward this renewable energy transition. The City of Asheville and Buncombe County worked together to instill a series of rooftop solar across municipal buildings, which became the largest municipal procurement of solar panels east of the Mississippi. 

Local breweries are significant voices for renewables also, according to Abele. Highland Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company are both very vocal supporters of clean energy, lending their voices to regulatory advice efforts. Highland has the largest solar array per barrel of brewing in the world, and Sierra Nevada has capped out the amount of solar they can install due to net metering.

Abele said Boone has already reached their 100% renewable goal. Instead of deploying solar, the town has signed contracts to purchase all of their power from hydroelectric facilities in the area. 

“Leaders in this region are really putting their money where their mouth is,” Abele said. “Businesses and local governments are really leaders in the state’s renewable energy sector."