It seems like everywhere you turn these days, someone is talking about climate change and the effects of high energy consumption. No matter what your stance on the subject matter, the data concerning energy consumption and the cost of supplying its demand throughout North Carolina is shocking. A 2010 report found North Carolina to be the second most coal-dependent state in the United States (behind only Georgia) . In addition, North Carolina was recently ranked #8 amongst the “Toxic Twenty” states from a 2012 report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) . This report considered the top twenty states responsible for a disproportionate share of toxic emissions from the US electric sector. High energy usage usually corresponds to high energy bills that can negatively affect economic growth. For these reasons, some NC municipalities have implemented programs aimed at increasing demand for energy efficiency retrofits for commercial and residential buildings. Municipalities can secure economic and environmental benefits by reducing energy consumption and investing in energy efficiency programs. These programs can act as tools for increasing the productivity and competitiveness of local economies.
The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) is one of six regional energy efficiency organizations in the United States working to transform the energy efficiency marketplace through collaborative public policy, thought leadership, outreach programs, and technical advisory services. In 2010, the organization received $20 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to spearhead local energy efficiency retrofit initiatives in 16 cities and towns throughout the southeast. Three of those selected municipalities are located in North Carolina – the Town of Carrboro, the Town of Chapel Hill and the City of Charlotte.
Carrboro and Chapel Hill initiated the Carrboro WISE (Worthwhile Investments Save Energy) and Chapel Hill WISE programs, respectively. These programs help small businesses (Carrboro WISE) and homeowners (Chapel Hill WISE) reduce their energy costs and consumption in an effort to support the local economy and create local jobs. In order to increase the program’s outreach, the Town of Carrboro created an Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund, offering 10 year loans at 3 percent interest on minimum loans of $1,500. In the three-year pilot period from 2010-2013, Chapel Hill WISE completed 365 residential projects throughout the Town, cutting energy consumption by an average of 22% per project, and realizing total annual cost savings of $96,000 . In addition, 97% of surveyed participants said they would recommend the WISE program to others.
A recent evaluation of SEEA’s initiatives throughout the Southeast from 2010 to 2013 found impressive economic results. As Figure 1 shows, for every $1 invested in North Carolina, $3.33 of economic output was generated. In addition, over 15 jobs were created with every $1 million of energy efficient program-related investments (Figure 2).
Source: Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, 2013
North Carolina has tremendous energy savings potential that can translate into economic growth. Municipal investment towards these types of programs are proven to reduce energy costs, support the local economy, and create local jobs.
To learn more about SEEA and their current work with communities throughout the southeast, click Here.
Rory Dowling, a dual MBA/MCRP candidate at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Department of City and Regional Planning, is a Community Revitalization Fellow at the School of Government.
 Union of Concerned Scientists (2010). Burning Coal, Burning Cash. http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/clean_energy/Burning-Coal-Burning-Cash_full-report.pdf.
 Natural Resources Defense Council (2012). Toxic Power, http://www.nrdc.org/air/files/toxic-power-presentation.pdf.
 Chapel Hill WISE Home Energy Efficiency Program, http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=2359