Happy Holidays from Strata Solar

Fast-growing Chapel Hill company cashes in on the sun

Charlotte Forecast 2013: Renewable Development

Charlotte Forecast 2013: Renewable Development

Changes being discussed to state incentives could slow rapid growth but developers still eye deals

by Susan Stabley, Staff Writer

Date: Friday, December 14, 2012

Charlotte's renewable-energy industry may face serious challenges in 2013 from state legislators looking to limit North Carolina's requirements and benefits for alternative sources of electricity.

But that's not stopping many renewable companies from pressing forward to expand across the Charlotte region and the state. And it's motivating renewable-energy advocates to lobby harder for the industry.

North Carolina has had renewable-energy standards in place since 2007. The goal has been for utilities – over time, in phases – to generate 12.5% of the power they sell from wind, solar and biomass sources by 2021.

Right now, those requirements are at 3%, and a group of Republican lawmakers may freeze the requirements at 3%. Some propose ending them altogether in 2013.

A 35% tax credit for renewables is also at risk in the General Assembly, which could stall new development.

And there's a request before the N.C. Utilities Commission that could impact the avoided-cost rate. That rate establishes how much utilities must pay on power contracts from independent developers of projects that are 20 megawatts or smaller.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association says the resulting job creation and investment from the renewable industry are reasons to retain the incentives. More than $108 million in related investment was leveraged out of $11 million claimed in tax credits in 2011, according to the N.C. Department of Revenue.

“These dollars are being invested in local communities and creating jobs,” says Betsy McCorkle, N.C. Sustainable Energy Association director of government affairs. “The clean-energy industry includes 1,100 companies that employ over 15,200 full-time workers statewide with over $3.7 billion in annual revenue.”

Markus Wilhelm, chief executive of Strata Solar in Chapel Hill, believes the incentives for renewable energy will survive. “We don't think there's a majority of people that support this,” Wilhelm says.

Strata plans to hire up to 300 full-time workers in 2013 for its solar farms in the Charlotte region and across the state. Wilhelm notes 400 construction workers “just on the installation side” were hired in 2012 for projects in the state and in Tennessee, of which 80 were minority hires. Strata has solar farms planned or under way in Catawba, Cleveland, Davie, Gaston and Lincoln counties.

“If the Republicans are about job creation, then we have a very good story to tell,” he says. “We convinced (equipment maker) Schletter to open a factory in Shelby. They will hire 600 people there, and they are bringing in an aluminum supplier. Solar is creating a lot of jobs.”

Next year “is going to be a good year for the industry in general,” Wilhelm adds. “My projection is very similar increases this year to next year, at least for my company. Most of my colleagues that I talk to are also pretty bullish if nothing major changes in the tax law.”

Other leaders in the solar industry here are Armand Energy Solutions in Charlotte, O2Energies in Cornelius and SunEnergy1 in Mooresville.

They and Strata rank among the top 10 solar developers in the state as listed by projects by N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. SunEnergy1 has four projects in the works totaling more than 58 megawatts.

Sustainable Energy Community Development Corp. of Davidson is planning almost 70 megawatts in seven solar projects next year. O2Energies Chief Executive Joel Olsen, says his company has close to 20 megawatts of solar projects across the state in rural areas. He plans to exceed that amount in new developments in 2013.

“It's an industry that's grown much faster than the rest of the economy,” Olsen says. “In the last four years, it was one of the only economic segments that showed growth.”

Olsen says the renewable energy and energy-efficiency industries in North Carolina “have a good chance of having 20,000 full-time employees in 2013.”

Hometown power giant Duke Energy Corp.  has no major renewable-energy projects planned here for 2013.

“There's nothing on the drawing board for the Charlotte region,” says a spokesman. There are still opportunities for Duke to sign purchase contracts with private developers here, he says.