It may be easy to forget that billions of dollars in investment flows into our state each year as a result of our homegrown solar-energy industry, and it’s something we must be careful not to take for granted.
If the federal government does not extend the solar Investment Tax Credit, the solar industry’s benefits to North Carolina could decline, including the jobs and economic development opportunities it brings.
Congress is debating whether to extend the tax credit, which has led to massive solar growth in the state. But there’s really no debating the fact that the tax credit, which is set to gradually scale down over the next few years, has helped advance clean energy and created thousands of jobs here in North Carolina.
In fact, right now North Carolina is the second-largest state for solar energy in the nation and, while there is much more potential to seize, our state is a fine example for America’s growing clean-energy sector.
Fortunately, the extension bill enjoys considerable support in the Senate — though it lacks Republican co-sponsors, which is disappointing, since this is not a partisan topic. Clean energy is good for all constituents of all parties.
Clean energy in North Carolina is driving job growth, spinning up new small businesses, and helping to make electricity more affordable. Even if you don’t have your own solar panels, the more the market expands, the more accessible solar becomes for everyone, driving down overall pricing.
North Carolina needs the solar industry, and North Carolina needs Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis to help protect North Carolina workers and small businesses by signing onto the legislation.
Here’s how the credit works: It incentivizes homeowners and businesses to purchase solar energy systems. Say someone buys a residential solar system, which costs around $14,000 on average in North Carolina. The credit would cover 30 percent of the cost of the project — in this case, $4,200. The same principal applies to big projects that are fueling our state’s economy.
Congress created this tax credit with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2005. Since then, the U.S. solar industry has grown 10,000 percent. Industry employment grew 159 percent between 2010 and 2018. Today, more than 242,000 Americans work in the solar sector.
North Carolina trails only California in total solar capacity. Almost 6 percent of our state’s energy comes from solar, enough to power nearly 680,000 homes.
Solar energy powers our economy as well as our buildings. Nearly 300 solar companies support 6,700 jobs across the state. And 25 percent of North Carolina’s clean-energy jobs are located in rural areas that need it most. That’s exactly the type of economic opportunity the state hopes more clean energy will create.
But after more than a decade of success, the federal solar tax credit is set to phase out. If it does, some solar projects could lose their competitive edge. As demand for panels declines, small installation businesses and large across North Carolina may be forced to lay off workers and cancel projects.
This would be deeply regrettable. The tax credit has generated $140 billion in private investment nationally. The federal policy is one of the most successful clean-energy policies in history, and is already on the books. It’s hard to understand why Congress wouldn’t pass a bill that had such broad bipartisan support in 2015, especially since a majority of Republican voters believe we should be addressing the impacts of a changing climate.
Thankfully, Congress may soon take up the Renewable Energy Extension Act of 2019. This bill has garnered bipartisan support in the House, where it boasts 47 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans. However, in the Senate, no Republicans have yet signed on.
North Carolina’s own Sen. Tillis could change that. Our junior senator has already worked to boost renewable energy production. If he wants to support his constituents, fuel our economy, and preserve North Carolina’s reputation as a hub of innovation, co-sponsoring the legislation and bringing fellow Republicans on board would be a winning move.