Energizing North Carolina: New Funding Initiatives Spark Clean Energy Growth

As the global pursuit of sustainable energy solutions intensifies, North Carolina stands ready to take significant steps toward achieving decarbonization goals and expediting the adoption of clean energy. A series of recent announcements, detailing substantial funding awards and opportunities, reaffirms the state’s steadfast commitment to successfully transition to a clean energy system that is not only environmentally friendly but also affordable, reliable, and equitable. At the forefront of many of these efforts stands the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC), a vital hub for advancing clean energy initiatives in North Carolina and beyond.

Last month, the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $2 million to North Carolina and South Carolina as part of the Renewable Energy Siting through Technical Engagement and Planning (R-STEP) program. NCCETC will lead a state-based collaborative to create an online technical assistance and educational hub over the next three years. Collaborative partners include the Center for Energy Education, the South Carolina Energy Office, and the Southeastern Wind Coalition.

As the United States aims for 100% clean electricity by 2035, with solar and wind power expected to contribute to up to 80% of the total, the removal of barriers to their rapid deployment becomes paramount. Steve Kalland, Executive Director of NCCETC, emphasized the pivotal role NCCETC and its partners have in providing essential technical outreach and support  crucial for the successful planning and evaluation of large-scale renewable energy and energy storage projects.  

“To effectively deploy these large-scale projects, we must address barriers to their implementation, while customizing them to meet the unique needs of the communities they aim to serve,” Kalland remarked. “NC State and our project partners not only bring deep technical and policy knowledge and support to communities evaluating these projects, but we can do so as well-known, trusted third parties with no direct financial stake in the discussion.  This can make a big difference when working with communities that previously had no other sources of information than the developers themselves or what they could find on the Internet.”

Recognizing that meaningful community engagement is pivotal to the success of such projects, R-STEP collaboratives are poised to assess the needs of stakeholders and develop tailored educational materials and technical assistance programs at the state level. Bringing together a diverse array of stakeholders from across the energy planning spectrum—including state and regional agencies, universities, developers, technical experts, public service commissions, farmers unions, tribes, community organizations, and other trusted entities—the collaboratives foster dialogue, promote inclusivity, and pave the way for a sustainable energy future that benefits all.

This approach will not only facilitate smoother project development but also unlock a host of opportunities for community wealth-building, workforce development, grid resilience enhancement, and electricity bill savings, particularly in rural or underserved areas.  By equipping stakeholders with the tools they need, North Carolina is poised to expand its renewable energy infrastructure while maximizing environmental and economic benefits.

In another new project, NCCETC was selected as a sub-awardee for funding from the DOE and MSI STEM R&D Consortium for two minority-serving universities to develop programs tailored to preparing students for success in clean energy careers. This partnership, led by Tennessee State University (TSU) will enrich educational opportunities and foster a more inclusive and dynamic workforce, driving diversity and innovation within the industry. Administered by the Integrated Strategies Office within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), this initiative aligns closely with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which directs 40% of the overall benefits of specific federal investments to flow into disadvantaged communities.

NCCETC will assist TSU in advancing workforce development initiatives to equip African American, Hispanic, and Native American students with the skills required for entry-level positions in the clean energy sector. Utilizing an innovative virtual reality platform, the program will offer an online training certificate complemented by in-person workshops focusing on solar energy, including design, installation, and energy storage techniques. Partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) through a course-sharing agreement, TSU aims to expand the reach of its program, ensuring broad access to clean energy education.

Moreover, this ambitious project includes an entrepreneurship component, encouraging students to cultivate clean energy businesses. By nurturing entrepreneurship among minority students, the initiative seeks to bolster the number of clean energy enterprises owned and operated by individuals from diverse backgrounds.

“We’re excited to work with Tennessee State University and help provide solar energy training and workshops through this project,” said Allison Carr, Training Program Manager at NCCETC. “Together, we aim to support the development of a robust and inclusive clean energy workforce, ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow head-on.”

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the selection of 60 applicants to receive funding under the Solar for All grant competition, with a staggering $7 billion earmarked for the initiative. These selected projects will expand access to distributed residential solar within low-income and disadvantaged communities, lowering energy costs, creating job opportunities, and advancing environmental justice.

North Carolina’s Solar for All coalition, EnergizeNC, was awarded $156 million in funding through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund program. The EnergizeNC coalition is led by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s State Energy Office, in collaboration with the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, Advanced Energy, and the North Carolina Clean Energy Fund.  You can sign up at the EnergizeNC website (www.energizenc.com) to receive email updates from the team as we work through the design and launching of several workgroups in the next few weeks.

As North Carolina continues to deploy clean energy, NCCETC will continue actively supporting these transformative efforts. By fostering collaboration, innovation, and inclusivity, the Center is shaping the state’s energy landscape and leading by example on the path toward a sustainable and equitable future for all North Carolinians.