Report: S.C. 21st in ‘green’ economy

Jul132011

BMW’s use of alternative fuels and products made by GE, KEMET give state a boost

South Carolina ranks 21st in the country in the overall size of its “clean” or “green” economy, according to a report released today by the Brookings Institution.

The ranking was achieved largely on the use of alternative fuels by its largest manufacturing facility, the BMW Manufacturing Company plant in Greer. General Electric’s wind turbine manufacturing operation and KEMET Electronics’ production of components for electric cars also boosted the Greenville area — and the state — in the rankings.

Greenville ranked 52nd overall in the nation for the size of its green economy.

The Columbia area ranked 60th and Charleston 84th.

But Greenville ranked first among the 100 largest metro areas in the United State for exports based on clean jobs. Charleston was eighth and Columbia 90th.

“Greenville is kind of a star here,” said Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director for the institution’s metropolitan policy program, which conducted the study. “It’s an example of a Southern (region) with a history of manufacturing transitioning into clean and green goods and services.”

Lowering the Columbia area on the list was its lack of growth in clean jobs from 2003 to 2010. According to the report, Columbia added only 469 clean jobs for the period, for a growth rate of only 0.8 percent annually. That ranks the region 89th and 91st respectively.

Charleston added 1,355 clean jobs in the time period for a 5.4 percent growth rate for a 65th and 26th national ranking. Greenville added 2,800 of the jobs for a growth rate of 4.9 percent, ranking it 48th and 39th respectively.

But Muro noted that research being conducted at USC and the nearby Savannah River National Laboratory in fuel cells and hydrogen could pay off big in the future.

“Many of the clean tech specializations remain small,” he said. “But I would counsel not to underestimate the potential for fast growth in these sectors.”

Neil McLean of Columbia-based EngenuitySC, a partnership between the city of Columbia, USC and others to spur high-tech innovation in the Midlands, also urged patience.

“We’re building a grass-roots clean energy economy here based on innovation and commercialization, … and that will take time,” he said. “Columbia’s clean energy economy will continue to grow as long as we stay focused.”

In addition to propelling Greenville in the Brookings rankings, BMW’s South Carolina plant has increased its ranking to No. 4 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Top 20 On-site Generation list of the largest green power users.

“BMW manufacturing views sustainable manufacturing as a key value in being a corporate citizen in South Carolina,” spokesman Max Metcalf said in an email. “Our efforts such as the conversion of methane gas from a nearby landfill to a source of green energy for our plant is a win-win for the company and the environment. Our team applauds the state and local successes that are reflected in the rankings.”

In 2010, BMW generated nearly 62 million kilowatt-hours of power using methane gas from a local landfill, according to the company. This represents about 37 percent of the company’s overall electricity use, the highest usage percentage of the EPA’s Top 10 companies.

More recently, BMW announced the addition of hydrogen storage and fueling center for its assembly plant, and is investigating whether wind turbines can add to the plant’s use of alternative fuels.

Brookings in a release said it conducted the study to quantify the nation’s growth in green jobs in the face of increased global competition. It noted that in 2004, China trailed the United States in investment in green jobs, but by last year China had invested twice as much as the U.S.

The nation’s green sector is a “compelling aspiration and an enigma,” the institution said, and the report is an effort to accurately quantify it.

“No swath of the economy has been more widely celebrated as a source of economic renewal and potential job creation,” it said in a release. But “debates about the so-called green economy and green jobs have frequently been short on facts and long on speculation, assertion, and partisanship.”