Charlotte grows as energy hub, but not everyone sees green

Siemens Energy's 825-job announcement this week gave a big bounce to Charlotte's growing energy hub, which promises to help refocus the city's banker-intensive image.

Far fewer so far are the jobs in green energy, such as solar power and energy efficiency, that Gov. Bev Perdue and President Obama have touted. All but four of the 15 energy-jobs announcements the Charlotte Chamber has made in the past two years focused on nuclear or fossil-fueled power.

Small energy firms hire by the twos and fours, not the hundreds, and the jobs they create can be hard to track. North Carolina is a renewable-energy leader in the Southeast, and Charlotte's leaders have embraced the idea of new technology.

But some green-energy startups say state energy policy still favors big utilities over small firms, and nuclear plants over solar panels. While Siemens got tens of millions of dollars in incentives to create new gas-turbine manufacturing jobs, many small firms struggle to find the financing to grow.

"It seems to be big-company announcements about big companies creating jobs here, which is great," said Erik Lensch, president of Argand Energy Solutions, a Charlotte solar and wind installation firm.

"But from the point of view of an entrepreneur trying to go from 20 jobs to 100 jobs, it's a challenge here. I'm not really seeing entrepreneurs take off."

Duke Energy, Lensch pointed out, contracted with Maryland-based SunEdison to build and run a large solar farm in Davidson County.

Smaller installations, he said, could have provided work for local companies.

Duke says far more solar companies are clamoring to do deals than the utility can accommodate. It uses local labor for its renewable-energy projects, a spokeswoman said, including 80 to 100 workers to build the solar farm.

Spurred by the state clean-energy law, Duke's own renewables portfolio is growing fast.

Apart from its solar farm and a solar rooftops program, the company has asked for state approval to burn waste wood in two coal-fired power plants. It has signed two deals to buy electricity made from landfill gas and will test wind power on the N.C. coast.

"The opportunities in the renewable space are huge," said Brett Carter, president of Duke Energy Carolinas. "I think we are on the very brink of not just renewables jobs but all types of energy jobs."

Read more of this story at