THUNBERG: Clean energy New economic opportunities for N.C.

Strata Solar—for the North State Journal
This photovoltaic solar array

As the former Mayor of Mooresville and a small business owner who also serves on the Board of the Centralina Economic Development Commission, I’ve seen firsthand how North Carolina’s economy has transformed over the last two decades. Farming, manufacturing and banking are still vital bedrocks of our economy, but we’ve also attracted new industries and jobs such as renewable energy and advanced, high-tech manufacturing in the past five to 10 years.Solar, wind, biomass and landfill gas-to-energy projects across our state are revitalizing local economies. Rural areas have been struggling long before the recession hit to attract new jobs, investments, and tax revenues to fund basic government services like schools and roads. Those communities now have reliable revenue streams for growth and better quality of life thanks to clean energy.I’ve seen the rapid growth and success of North Carolina’s clean energy industry — now a $7 billion industry with over 26,000 jobs in every region of our state — which is why I find the ongoing attacks being leveled at clean energy in N.C. so puzzling. I’ve done some research and found that the Civitas Institute and other groups attacking clean energy in our state didn’t use facts or data regarding North Carolina’s Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) law, but instead rely on national averages and exaggerated or outdated information. Thus, they have no real basis for urging our state legislators to take such drastic and unwarranted action to repeal our state’s clean energy laws.The facts are clear: clean energy is benefiting North Carolina, which is why it has broad, bipartisan support among our legislators and our citizens. In fact, a 2016 poll conducted for Conservatives for Clean Energy found 85 percent of N.C. voters support politicians who advance renewable energy options.I had the privilege of serving as mayor of Mooresville for two terms, from 2005 to 2009. A city of nearly 35,000 people, Mooresville is probably best known as the home of numerous NASCAR racing teams and drivers, which has helped us earn the nickname “Race City USA.” But, it’s not just Mooresville. North Carolinians by nature have racing in their blood and want to finish first. After legislators approved the REPS law in 2007, rapid growth and construction of large-scale solar projects quickly shot our state into the top 10, and in 2015, N.C. was ranked No. 3 in newly installed solar energy.However, it’s not just the growing number of large-scale solar projects found in eastern N.C. or the Shelby or Hickory areas. I recently learned that the Charlotte Motor Speedway is home to a landfill gas-to-energy project, which generates power out of waste produced at racetrack events. How innovative! And several racing teams and drivers have installed solar, including Martin Truex, Jr., Jeff Martin & JR Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) because it makes good business sense.Clean energy was a silver lining during North Carolina’s recent economic recession and continues to create new economic opportunities, investments and jobs across our entire state. I urge our state legislators to keep us on the right track — maintain North Carolina’s REPS law and look for new opportunities to grow and expand our state’s clean energy economy.Bill Thunberg is the owner of Alexander Zachary Jewelers and former mayor of Mooresville.