Green Growing Pains

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Photo by Nicolas Morgan

Going green is giving some companies growing pains in search for capital.

While traditional energy companies are booming in Charlotte, renewable energy firms find themselves chasing financing.

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

Far fewer so far are jobs in the green energy sector, such as solar power and energy efficiency. All but four of the 15 energy job announcements the Charlotte Chamber has made in the past two years focused on nuclear or fossil fuel related projects.

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 Southwest and Charlotte’s leaders have embraced the idea of new technology.

But some green energy start-ups say state energy policy still favours 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 to 100 jobs it’s a challenge here. I am not seeing entrepreneurs taking off.”

Duke Energy, as 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 clamouring to do deals than the utility can accommodate. It uses local labour for its renewable energy projects, including 80 to 100 workers to build the solar farm.

A writer and photographer, Spowart has publication credits in Canada, United States, Europe and Norway with such publications as The Globe & Mail, The National Post, Sun Media, Canwest News, and Canada News Wire.