Passage of the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) law in 2007 by the North Carolina General Assembly and incentives from the federal government are helping create a growing “clean industry” in the state, according to the NC Sustainable Energy Association.

North Carolina is now home to 1,792 companies focused on renewable energy, and the state is the site for 1,829 renewable energy systems, according to a new report from the association.

The number of companies jumped from 1,100 last fall to nearly 1,800, based on data gathered by the group as of March. And these numbers could be low, according to the report’s authors.

Published Tuesday, the 90-page “Clean Energy Data Book” is the group’s first effort to catalog the state of clean energy projects. Over the past two years, the Association has reported that the clean energy sector employs 12,000 people in 2010, up from 10,000 in 2009. A reported on 2011 employment will be issued in November.

The existing renewable energy projects have the potential to generate more than 2,809 megawatts of power. That’s enough for 561,000 homes, based on 1 megawatt per 200 households.

More projects are in the works. For example, last week, Atlantic Wind won approval in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties begin construction on a 20,000-acre wind farm site by next spring and could initiate power generation by 2013.

The data, which is broken down in the report for each of the state’s seven economic development zones, is conservative, according to Julie Robinson, a spokesperson for the group.

“[O]ur annual Industries Census has a very specific (narrowly defined) definition of what is a ‘clean energy job’ – i.e. this includes only full-time equivalent employees who spend a majority of their time on renewable energy, energy efficiency, high performance building or smart grid,” Robinson explained. “This ‘definition’ means that our number of companies and jobs are very conservative, and thus, we actually have many more people working in the clean energy industries when you start extrapolating the results.”

By category, the state has:

• 33 biomass projects with a generating capacity of 551 megawatts

• 836 geothermal projects (megawatt projects not available, the group says)

• 67 hydroelectric projects with a generating capacity of nearly 1,900 megawatts

• 829 solar projects with just over 59 megawatts of generating capacity

• 64 wind energy projects with 300 megawatts of potential capacity

“Renewable energy and energy efficiency is an emerging and potentially significant economic driver for North Carolina,” said Paul Quinlan, managing director of the NC Sustainable Energy Association and a co-author of the Clean Energy Data Book. “Clean energy companies, jobs, investments and projects can be found in almost every county in North Carolina from the mountains to the coast – and the potential for further growth is immense.”
Some companies, governments and other institutions are also moving to embrace so-called “LEED” standards (leadership in energy and environmental design) for energy efficiency buildings. According to the association, 770 LEED buildings covering just over 77 million square feet have been constructed.

Another 770 Energy Star-rated buildings also have been built. They cover nearly 52.8 million square feet.

The group calculated as well just how many homes and manufactured homes have the potential to be upgraded for energy efficiency. Nearly 1.2 million homes built before 1970 could be upgraded. The state has nearly 598,000 manufactured homes.

The report can be downloaded here.

The NC SEA has spoken out publicly in favor of the Solar Jobs Bill (H495/S473) and the Energy Independence and Job Creation Bill (S694) in the North Carolina General Assembly. (Read an OpEd published in WRAL Tech Wire here.)

The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center funded the report.

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