Clean energy is proving to be a major player in North Carolina’s energy market and economy. In 2015, the clean energy industry employed 26,154 full-time workers and contributed nearly $7 billion in revenue to the Tar Heel State.
Solar, the state’s second largest clean energy job creator and revenue driver, has spread rapidly throughout NC. Utility-scale solar farms are dotting the state map from coast to coast. In fact, North Carolina recently became the fourth state to surpass 1 gigawatt of solar capacity, an impressive milestone. While solar is working for North Carolina, our state is leaving a massive opportunity to harness homegrown clean energy on the table due to outdated law.
Although there is much to be celebrated, businesses of all sizes are missing out on the opportunity to harness affordable solar power because North Carolina restricts access to the successful third-party financing options available in dozens of other states.
Nationwide, major corporations and small businesses alike are going solar in a big way. Solar leaders include some of America’s most well-known brands, including Walmart, Apple, Costco and Target. The reason? Solar benefits their bottom lines and allows them to focus resources on their core business strategies.
Energy often makes up a significant portion of a business’s operating costs. Companies are installing solar at record rates because it reduces that overhead cost and helps them manage long-term budgets as solar provides predictably priced electricity for 20 to 30 years.
Companies like VF Corporation, Belk, and SAS Institute with operations in North Carolina have taken notice of competitive solar energy and are making investments both here and elsewhere in order to reduce their energy costs and utilize reliable clean energy sources.
“Sustainability has saved VF Corporation $25 million,” John Wescott of VF Corporation said, while discussing the company’s initiative to install a solar-covered parking lot. Wescott also said the company has plans to rely solely on clean and renewable energy in the future.
Jerry Williams, of SAS, discussed what energy efficiency means to SAS’s business model and how solar has made a positive impact on the company as a whole. “We’ve incorporated energy efficiency into our business process and were early adopters of solar energy.” Williams said of SAS. “Our sustainability program is responsible for 4 million kWh between two solar farms, three rooftop solar systems, and three solar thermal systems.”
Candace Taylor Anderson, of Belk, praised the company’s sustainability program and how beneficial it has become. “Clean and renewable energy is not a political issue, it’s just smart business.” Anderson said.
These well-known, reputable businesses have proven that solar is a reliable, efficient, cost-saving source of energy that can help improve a company’s bottom line. But here in North Carolina, many businesses are missing out on solar’s financial benefits due to government restrictions on innovative financing options that reduce upfront costs.
Durham’s Scrap Exchange is one of these companies. It is an organization focused on sustainability. Its primary mission involves diverting materials that would otherwise be sent to the landfill and making these materials available at a low cost to the community for use in educational and creative arts programming, as well as for household or artistic use.
“Using solar and/or other forms of renewable energy would allow us to expand our sustainability paradigm into energy use, which would be great,” Scrap Exchange Deputy Director Rebecca Currie said.
Scrap Exchange purchased a building to act as its operations center in December 2013. The company has since made an effort to reduce its energy usage and become more efficient.
“Since that time we have worked to reduce energy usage by replacing fluorescent lighting with LED lighting and installing 6 new, energy-efficient HVAC units. Additional goals include a new insulated roof and related improvements to further increase the energy efficiency of our building. Solar is a long-term goal of ours,” Currie said.
Though solar is a long-term goal, the Scrap Exchange would like to know its financing options first to see how its bottom line would be affected.
“Whether or not we would lease solar panels would depend on the economics of leasing versus buying, and what kind of funding we could get to support the solar upfit (e.g., grants, etc.),” Currie said.
Reinvestment Partners is another Triangle-based business that thinks solar for business makes sense. The company’s mission is to advocate for economic justice and opportunity. It works to put an end to predatory lending practices that strip wealth and to change financial institutions’ lending practices in order to promote wealth in underserved communities.
Peter Skillern, Executive Director of Reinvestment Partners, thinks that going solar provides numerous economic benefits.
“There’s a really good idea behind going solar,” Skillern said. “Most of the buildings we do would greatly benefit from solar energy. In fact, I’ve got a building that would greatly benefit from using solar. It currently has $500-800 per month in electricity costs and solar could drive that cost down.”
Skillern acknowledged that solar is smart practice for businesses.
“We would make the extra effort to go solar if the right financing options were available,” Skillern said.
North Carolina’s business owners want the power to choose. If they want to install solar to benefit their business, they should have access to the same financing options available in so many other states. Enabling third-party financing would benefit North Carolina’s existing businesses and make our state more attractive to new and expanding companies that increasingly see solar investment as critical to their bottom line.