Cleveland County is turning green.
Solar farms are cropping up across the county from Waco to Kings Mountain.
Shelby solar manufacturer Schletter plans to add 50 more jobs this year.
Nearly $60 million of clean energy investment has been made in the county, investment that increases the tax base and gives the county more money to spend on other sectors.
And more than 150 jobs in clean energy have been created in the Shelby area since 2012, a number expected to double by 2016.
With North Carolina number 3 in the nation in solar installations, how does clean energy benefit Cleveland County and what’s on the horizon for the county in the coming years?
Impact on county through tax base, jobs
Since 2007, Cleveland County has seen $58.3 million invested in solar energy projects, said Betsy McCorkle, director of government affairs at the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.
“These investments come in without the need for new infrastructure. They don’t require new sewers, police, schools,” she said. “It’s very low impact to the county, but it has a great impact on the tax base, which allows the county to have more money for things like schools, roads, buses, whatever they need.”
From a jobs perspective, McCorkle said clean energy has brought many temporary construction jobs to the county, but that solar farms themselves don’t bring sustained jobs. However, when manufacturers like Schletter locate in the county, because of the state and the area’s strong solar market that is already in place, it creates sustainable manufacturing jobs for people in the area, she said.
Altogether, more than 23 megawatts of solar photovoltaic projects have been installed in the county, and 11 projects have been completed.
Adding 250+ jobs in coming years
One of the biggest clean energy projects to locate in Cleveland County in recent years, Schletter, currently employs about 110 people.
Nick Wiebelhaus, East Coast general manager for the company, said they plan to add another 50 jobs this year, depending on the market and state legislature.
“Our overall goal is between 250 and 300 jobs in the next four to five years,” he said.
He said they picked Cleveland County because they wanted to be close to their customers, and because they saw a great opportunity for employment, “a good work pool that we could draw from.”
“The local community college and other officials were also very willing to help us develop training programs and protocols,” he said. “There was a lot of good, aggressive campaigning of local officials as well, to get us to come here.”
Bringing back lost textile jobs through energy
Much of that campaigning has come from officials with Cleveland County’s Economic Development Partnership.
Kristen Fletcher, vice president, said in her experience, Cleveland County’s clean energy clients chose the county because of its friendliness, quick process of securing permits, infrastructure and close proximity to the Charlotte metro area.
Another factor in North Carolina’s increasing clean energy industry, said Fletcher, is the state’s Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standards.
“A strong renewable energy sector has emerged in Cleveland County as a result of the North Carolina REPS which is helping to offset the many textile jobs lost in the county over the last decade,” said Fletcher.
Becoming an ‘Energy Capital’
On the whole, Fletcher said energy has been one of the EDP’s main areas of focus.
She said communities in the Charlotte area now call themselves “The New Energy Capital” because of the millions of dollars of investment here in recent years from the energy industry.
“The regional statistics are fairly staggering. We have over 260 companies tied directly to the energy sector, that are employing more than 27,800 workers and ranging from solar panel manufacturing to nuclear engineering to renewable research and development,” she said.
The future for the ‘New Energy Capital’ is very much a bright one, she said.
“We remain very optimistic about additional renewable energy-related investment and job creation in Cleveland County,” she said. “It’s been rewarding to watch Cleveland County become a power player in this sector, as companies we have recruited over the last eight years have made combined investments well into the billions and have created thousands of new jobs in our community.”
Reposted from Shelbystar.com