The number of people employed in North Carolina’s clean energy is up from 2015’s 26,000, but some sectors have been adversely impacted by the North Carolina legislature’s allowing the state’s tax incentives expire, Ivan Urlaub, executive director of North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) tells WRAL Techwire.

NCSEA will disclose preliminary 2016 numbers from its yearly census at its annual Making Energy Work conference ( today and Tuesday in Raleigh. The NC clean energy sector currently racks up nearly $7 billion in annual revenues for 989 firms.

NCSEA’s predictions for the future, under a unified vision and action plan, say that the state could exceed 60,000 clean energy jobs and $35 billion in annual industry revenues by 2030.

While some sectors continue to grow, Urlaub said rooftop, customer-owned solar, geo-thermal ground source heat pumps, and swine-waste-to-energy will see job reductions this year due to the expired tax incentives. Rooftop solar and geo-thermal heat pumps are costly upfront investments that still pay off in the long run but are less attractive to buyers without the incentives.

Even though the state made considerable progress in the last 15 years on solar, climbing to fourth place in U.S. state installations, “Eliminating the tax benefit truncated this resource,” Urlaub said. He said misguided politics led to their not being renewed and NCSEA is lobbying to have them restored. “Not enough people realize we have a lot to lose.”

2017 goal: restore tax incentives

That’s one reason the NCSEA annual census is important, he said. “So people realize how much we’re potentially sacrificing to make some people politically happy.”

“A goal of ours for 2017 is to increase financial options for clean energy resources,” said Urlaub. “Those could take any number of forms, tax incentives, grants or municipal government programs.”

Another possibility is community solar, where utilities build solar farms and allow customers who can’t afford install rooftop solar buy panels in the farm. It’s in its first phase of trials with the state’s electric cooperatives and NCSEA will issue a report on it in a few months.

“It’s a way to participate a little with the utility handling the upfront costs.”

Why not bio-gas?

Urlaub said the state has “Learned a ton about swine-waste-to-energy” from industry and academic partners such as North Carolina State University. “It’s a huge economic opportunity,” he added, but some industry players are running into barriers with regulations rather than the technology. “We want to get power plants off coal, but natural gas is only a little better.”

While natural gas is cleaner, overall, it still results in too many unwanted emissions. “Why not go to bio gas? It would be better from a sustainability standpoint.”

Models need to change to promote clean energy closer to the user, but utilities can’t just do it. “Regulations put a lot of restraints on how they learn and change their business model. We need to meet them half way so they can keep up in the new energy economy.”

Urlaub said the association expects about 400 people to attend its two-day conference,:”People find jobs, employers find candidates, deals get done” at the event he adds. “Every year we hear testimonials that companies found a person or partner that fills a missing niche in what they’re trying to accomplish.”

The 2015 NCSEA Census: