Moving the U.S. economy toward power from “green,” or environmentally friendly, technology would create thousands of jobs across North Carolina and the U.S. according to a new study.

Calling the energy initiative the start of a “green recovery,” Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for the Conservation Council of North Carolina, said it would be a “win-win” for the state. Not only would a national initiative create 62,000 jobs, it also would help improve the environment, he said. The study estimates than $2.9 billion in funds would be directed to North Carolina if the program were implemented.

is a 40-page report prepared by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Center for American Progress.

If the U.S. were to implement a two-year, $100 billion “green investment program,” that would generate 2 million jobs while improving energy efficiency and lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil, according to the study. Its authors say the program could be paid for by a greenhouse gas “cap-and-trade” program under which industry could buy and sell carbon-based energy permits.

The study suggests allocating the $2.9 billion in North Carolina this way:

  • Energy-efficient building retrofits, $1.2 billion
  • Mass transit and rail freight, $585 million
  • “Smart” electrical grid, $292 million
  • Wind and solar power, biofuels, $877 million

Crawford, speaking on behalf of several N.C. environmental groups such as the Audubon Society. The Sierra Club, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said another benefit of the program would be the kinds of jobs created. Among them would be construction and manufacturing.

“This would put people back to work with skills they already know,” Crawford said.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate climbed to 6.8 percent in July, and economist Michael Walden of N.C. State University has forecast that rate will top 7 percent in the near future.

In recent years, the Tar Heel economy has been hurt by the loss of textile and other manufacturing jobs, and the state is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in retraining programs such as developing skills for the biotech industry.

However, even backers of a “clean energy” plan concede these programs will come with a price tag – including higher costs.

“Over the short term, yes,” said Maria Kingery, co-founder and director of human resources for Southern Energy Management, when asked if consumers and businesses will have to pay more for environmentally friendly energy, such as biofuels, solar and wind. However, she added, “What we are spending, we are investing.”

Duke Energy and Progress Energy already face requirements from the N.C. General Assembly to produce more energy from renewable sources and to increase energy efficiency. Both firms have outlined plans that call for increases in rates to underwrite costs of wind, solar and other efforts.

Kingery’s firm, which employs 43 people, works with companies to improve energy use and to explore alternatives to traditional power.

Authors of the study are hardly alone in touting energy alternatives with oil having reached nearly $150 a barrel and gas topping $4 a gallon in recent months. 

In his new book, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls for a carbon tax to help convince entrepreneurs and private sector companies to invest in new sources of energy.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama has spelled out a $150 billion, 10-year energy program heavily focused on renewable energy and biofuels that he says will create “5 million new jobs.”

Republican John McCain, meanwhile, has said he wants to build more nuclear power plants, expand drilling for oil and natural gas and pursue so-called “renewables.”

Whether such programs will produce the promised jobs is not assured, according to ABC News analyst John Stossel.

“Governments create no wealth,” Stossel wrote in a commentary Wednesday. “They only move it around while taking a cut for their trouble. So any jobs created ‘over here’ come at the expense of jobs that would have been created ‘over there.’”

The “Green Economic Recovery Program” calls for:

  • $50 billion in tax credits that private businesses and homeowners would use to retrofit buildings to increase energy efficiency and to add renewable energy systems, such as solar panels.
  • $46 billion in “direct government spending” for mass transit, “smart” electrical grids, “new investments” in renewable energy and retrofitting of public housing.
  • $4 billion in federal loan guarantees for financing building retrofits and investments in renewables.

“By accelerating the implementation of these policies, we address our immediate need to boost a struggling economy and jumpstart our long-term transformation to a low-carbon economy,” the authors of the study wrote.

“This $100 billion initiative is part of a comprehensive, low-carbon energy strategy and could be paid for with proceeds from auctions of carbon permits under a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.”