Moving the S.C. Energy Office into the Department of Commerce would help the state recruit “green” jobs, such as making solar panels and wind turbines.
That was the message delivered by Deputy Secretary of Commerce George Patrick at a statewide renewable energy forum held Wednesday at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
“Energy would be an attractive tool in our toolbox,” he said.
Recently, both BMW and Boeing made green news – the Upstate automaker for tapping a local landfill for methane to create 37 percent of its electricity, and Boeing for turning the roof of its new North Charleston assembly plant into the largest solar farm in the Southeast. Also, in January, California-based AQT Solar announced that it would build a plant in Blythewood that would build solar cells for solar panels. The facility could hire 1,000 people by 2014.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the state had the highest month-to-month jump in unemployment in the nation, to 10.5 percent from 10 percent. And the combination of companies wanting to go green and firms wanting to help them do that is a job creator, from metal fabricators to installation helpers to electrical engineers, forum attendees said.
“It’s a wonderful idea,” Erika Myers of Baker Renewable Energy, one of the event’s organizers, said of the idea to fold the energy office into Commerce. “Because what we are talking about are jobs.”
Presently, the energy office is part of the State Budget and Control Board. Legislation backed by Gov. Nikki Haley eliminating the board and forming a department of administration, places the office under that new Cabinet agency.
However, that legislation never came to a vote in the S.C. Senate during the past session.
Patrick said the governor still would be open to having the office in her Cabinet. “But the long pole in the tent is how difficult it would be (politically) and if there a sense (in the General Assembly) to change the legislation.”
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey also said the governor was open to the idea, “but all discussions are very preliminary.”
He added that there is “tremendous business development potential in renewable and other forms of energy and we are already starting to see that.”
Much of what the 22-employee energy office does is assist businesses with energy conservation and integrating renewable energy systems, as well as staying abreast of whatever incentives might be available for going green.
“So there’s a certain value to having that expertise in the department,” Patrick said.
Myers said the move also would allow Commerce and the governor to form a more comprehensive energy policy that would attract new green companies.
At least nine bills were introduced this year dealing with green energy, according to the S.C. Policy Council, a government watchdog group. Last year there were 16.
Myers, a former renewable energy program manager at the energy office, noted that North Carolina, where her company is based, and Georgia have corporate solar tax credits that a company can leverage for up to $2.5 million over a period of years. South Carolina has a tax credit maximum of $35,000.
“That’s not even close,” she said.
Patrick noted that since 2008, Commerce has been involved in the recruitment of $1.41 billion in investment and more than 3,000 jobs in the alternative energy and renewable sector. Those numbers do not include nuclear plants.
And he noted that “the important features about the green jobs found in South Carolina are that the vast majority of them are permanent.
“Only 4 percent of the green jobs we see are part time and only about 1 percent were created as a result of the stimulus – the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” he said. “Those facts indicate that green jobs are firmly rooted in our state’s economy and will be around for years to come.”