Local News

N.C. gets nearly $21 million stimulus for energy projects

Posted September 18, 2009 12:13 p.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2009 3:27 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. Department of Energy announced Friday that North Carolina will receive nearly $21 million in stimulus funds for energy efficiency and conservation projects.

The funds will create or save 300 jobs, said John Morrison, assistant secretary for energy in the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Sixty percent of the funds will go to smaller municipalities and counties, while the remaining 40 percent will go to the state.

The state plans to use some of its funds to make government buildings energy efficient and to support projects to convert methane produced by landfills into electricity. Local governments will propose projects for the funds.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said those funds, plus $37 million for larger counties and municipalities, could enable North Carolina to become a leader in the emerging clean-energy industry.

"The new industrial revolution that we will need in order to reduce carbon emissions will be one which other countries ... (have decided) is their economic future," Chu said. "So, the United States has an opportunity to lead in this race, or we can follow."

North Carolina's strong industrial base and research-and-development companies have primed it to become a leader in "high-tech energy manufacturing," the energy secretary said.

"North Carolina has tremendous assets," Chu said. "It has a tremendous opportunity to take advantage as the United States moves into an era where we're going to be promoting energy efficiency, where we're going to be promoting cleaner forms of energy."

The state is already a leader in nuclear energy and has the potential to be a major supplier of biomass and wind energy, he said.

According to an energy department report, North Carolina ranks among the top 20 states for biomass resources – such as agricultural wastes and wood scraps and sawdust produced in furniture mills – that could be converted into electricity.

The report stresses that North Carolina could produce wind energy, particularly along and off the coast and on the highest mountain ridges. Fully exploiting those wind resources would add 10,000 to 20,000 manufacturing jobs, according to a 2008 report from the energy department.

Chu acknowledged concerns that winds farms could disturb vistas and damage tourism, but he said those effects could be mitigated and are outweighed by the benefits of energy production. He pointed out that coastal areas could be covered by water if climate change is not mitigated.

Clean-energy technology, said Chu, could also benefit North Carolina's coal industry, which generates three-fifths of the state's electricity, according to the energy department. Economically feasible ways to trap carbon-dioxide produced by coal plants could be "routinely deployed" in 10 years, he said.

"This is an incredible opportunity to stimulate the economy," Chu said, "whether it's taking advantage of the biofuels potential of North Carolina, whether it's taking advantage of the great offshore wind potential."

Ultimately, efficient uses of clean energy will save consumers and businesses money, Chu said. He cited the example of California, where the energy department credits energy-efficiency measures – including tighter appliance and building standards – for keeping per-capita energy bills down even as energy rates have risen since the 1970s.

California is "an example of how you can do things, how every state in the Union can do things to promote energy efficiency in a way that goes directly into helping everybody, in a very personal way, saving money," Chu said.