Don’t give up our solar advantage

Charlotte’s Levine Children’s Hospital opened in 2007 with solar panels.
Charlotte’s Levine Children’s Hospital opened in 2007 with solar panels. 2007 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

In the 1980s, North Carolina’s business community seized an early-mover advantage and went on to create the second-largest banking center in the country. Supported by a business-friendly climate, this growth enabled North Carolina to compete on a global stage.

Today, another industry is emerging in which North Carolina has an early-mover advantage. That industry is solar power.

However, our legislature is debating changing North Carolina’s renewable energy policies mid-stream and removing the renewable energy tax credit abruptly instead of phasing it down from 35 percent of cost to lower amounts over time. Such action would be premature and bad for business. States that encourage development of growth industries gain major advantages in our competitive global economy.

Look at what happened in Silicon Valley. It is not out of our reach. We have the talent and the universities. We have some of the world’s largest energy and energy-efficiency companies, including Siemens, AREVA, Babcock & Wilcox, Cree and Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility. We certainly have the capital. Major financial institutions employ thousands of North Carolinians and are actively investing in new energy globally. These companies include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, MetLife, Babson Capital and TIAA-CREF.

Will it stay in N.C.?

Critics of solar do not understand that it is here to stay. In the last decade, business and innovation have cut the cost of solar power by more than half. Solar is now close to competing with conventional sources of energy such as natural gas, coal and nuclear. Solar in North Carolina costs our utilities 6 to 7 cents a kilowatt-hour and continues to fall. Compare that with the average retail price of about 11 cents a kilowatt-hour.

New growth industries drive job creation and economic diversification. North Carolina’s renewable energy policies and tax credits have created more than 23,000 jobs and $3 billion investment. Our universities are helping to drive innovation in solar, and the industry improves North Carolina’s brand and ability to compete for talent globally. In fact, one of our homegrown solar companies, Strata Solar, was recently named as one of the top 10 solar companies in the world.

Solar is here to stay. The question is, will it stay in North Carolina? Our state has the opportunity to compete and be a leader in this 21st century industry. All our legislature has to do is maintain our renewable energy policies and phase down the tax credit responsibly rather than ending it abruptly this year.

Hugh McColl Jr. is the former chairman and CEO of Bank of America.