Western North Carolina is an energy innovator. According to the EvolveEnergy Partnership, the region is “one of the most supportive clean energy business environments in the country. From a leading incentive and regulatory environment, to strong entrepreneur support resources, to vibrant clean energy business networks, to clean technology early-adopting communities, WNC is well positioned to be a leader in the emerging clean energy marketplace.”
In 2012, FLS Energy, headquartered in Asheville, was named North Carolina’s Top Company and #7 on the Top 100 Energy Companies in the United States. Students at Appalachian State University won the People’s Choice Award at the U.S. Solar Decathlon in 2011. In addition, the region has the highest concentration of clean energy companies in the state, and leads the way with 931 megawatts (MW) of installed renewable energy. Western North Carolina experienced greater growth in renewable energy-related employment compared to the U.S. as a whole. In the five-county region, Buncombe and Henderson Counties experienced the highest volume of growth in clean energy-related industries, and a distinct cluster of businesses that focuses on renewable energy and energy efficiency has formed.
While there is a clear shift in focus to clean and efficient energy and energy conservation nationally as well as locally, there is still much to be done. The vast majority of energy produced in the state originates from fossil fuels. In 2008, the Mountain Resources Commission 27-county region in Western North Carolina had 2,435 MW of electricity generation capacity (8.3 percent of the state’s total), 50 percent of which was powered by coal, about 31 percent by hydroelectric, and 17.4 percent by natural gas. By comparison, in 2009 over half (55 percent) of state-wide electricity was generated by coal-fired power plants and 34 percent from nuclear facilities. Not surprisingly, the largest fuel source consumed within North Carolina is petroleum, which equates to 40 percent of the total statewide consumption. However, the state has no local deposits of coal, petroleum, or natural gas; therefore, the vast majority of energy resources for the state must be imported.
Energy consumption per capita in North Carolina increased from 1960 to 1995 at a greater rate than the rest of the United States, but so did the state’s population. While energy consumption continues to increase in response to a growing population, energy use per capita declined slightly between 1995 and 2000 and substantially between 2000 and 2005. This progress suggests that individuals are becoming more conscious of their energy use, especially during periods of peak oil prices.
The GroWNC region needs to continue to support investment and innovation in the energy sector. By doing so, the region will benefit from cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable energy sources, high-wage job growth, and less dependence on outside resources.
Read more about this theme in the Energy Innovation section (pdf) of the Regional Plan.