Renewable energy offers path for S.C. growth

Jul282011

From the Upstate to the Pee Dee to the Lowcountry and points in between, South Carolina’s foray into creating green, renewable energy jobs is on a roll.

“Clean energy is not something we talk about in South Carolina, but it’s something we’re doing,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a video message to kick off Wednesday’s S.C. Renewable Energy Forum.

Since 2008, the state has landed about 3,000 jobs in the business of alternative or renewable energy, said George Patrick, deputy secretary of the S.C. Department of Commerce. The jobs represent an investment of $1.4 billion, he said.

Focusing on energy also is helpful in recruiting businesses to the state, Patrick added. He noted that in a proposed reorganization of state government, the S.C. Energy Office might wind up in the Commerce Department.

“Energy would give us another tool in our toolbox,” Patrick said.

Currently, the Energy Office and its two dozen employees are under the Budget and Control Board.

Overall, estimates of the number of green jobs in South Carolina range from 86,000 to 90,000, said Fred Humes, director of the Center for Hydrogen Research in Aiken.

Those numbers include jobs like garbage haulers, Humes said; still, the number is impressive for a small state.

“We’re leaders, folks, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Humes told some 250 academicians, researchers, and business and government leaders attending the daylong forum at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

Examples of the state’s emergence as a leader in green power enterprises include:

  • BMW’s plans to convert landfill gas into hydrogen at its Spartanburg manufacturing plant. The company uses hydrogen fuel cells to power material handling vehicles in the 1.2 million-square-foot plant.
  • Domtar Corp.’s startup of a 50 megawatt biofuel steam turbine generator at its Bennettsville paper mill. The generator uses steam from wood waste to make electricity.
  • Santee Cooper, the state-operated power company, has signed a 15-year agreement to buy up 50 MW of green power.
  • S.C. Electric & Gas Co. and Boeing Co.’s energy contract, which involves installation of solar panels on the roof of the 787 Dreamliner assembly plant. The Boeing facility will be the largest solar farm in the Southeast and sixth-largest in the United States. The solar facility will be capable of generating 2.6 MW, or enough power for 250 homes.

Many jobs, though, will come from startups like Trulite Inc., of Columbia, which manufactures fuel cells for portable hydrogen power generators.

The company currently employs 15 people but is in the process of ramping up production, said Blair Hatcher, vice president of finance. By 2015, it plans to directly employ about 200 workers, Hatcher said.

That number doesn’t include its eight suppliers, he said.

Generating power from green and renewable sources like wind and solar is essential if the state hopes to grow, said state Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek.

Even with plans by the utility companies to add more generating plants — including those powered by nuclear sources — the state faces a shortfall in power.

Thanks to flat-screen TVs, computers and other electronic gadgets, power demands are projected to increase 30% by 2030, Campbell said.

“We will need another 7,000-8,000 megawatts by 2030,” he said.

About 1,000 MW can be picked up through conservation efforts, and an additional 4,000 MW will be generated by four reactor units planned in South Carolina by the SCE&G-Santee Cooper partnership and Duke Energy, Campbell said.

That still leaves a gap 2,000 to 3,000 MW.

Energy from green, renewable sources will be needed, Campbell said; and that means more jobs in the clean and renewable energy fields.

“It’s going to take everything we do, pulling from all aspects,” he said.