GREENSBORO, N.C. - Solar energy industry is booming in North Carolina– with an estimated 3,100 jobs across the state right now. That's double last year's count. Jobs with an average salary of $66,000. But 2 Wants To Know found so far, most of the jobs are going elsewhere in the state.
Just outside of Lexington, is the Davidson County Solar Farm. From the sky you can see its size – 63,000 energy producing panels - the largest in North America when it was built five years ago.
According to County Planning Documents from 2009, the project was supposed to create 80 construction jobs. But County Commission Chairman Larry Potts says those jobs were specialized:
"I'm in the building industry, and I know most of those people travel with the jobs and install them because it's quite a specialized installation, not anybody can do it," Potts said.
Now built, the solar panels are automated – so the equipment only requires a staff of three people.
Three jobs – for what was the largest solar farm in North America.
"There was never a hope of a lot of jobs. There was hope I think of more than the three that we have," Potts said.
So far, our area's focus in solar energy has been farms – leading to 70 new positions in the Triad according to the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association. 70 out of 3100 statewide. The bulk of the 3100 jobs are in solar research and development. Ivan Urlaub of NCSEA says most of those companies want to be based near the universities and each other in the Triangle and Charlotte areas.
"We've been measuring this data for the state since 2008, and the Triad as always had less market activity than the rest of the state," Urlaub said.
There is one bright spot left for our area. As the federal government increases green energy incentives, more solar products will be made in the states. And energy experts say the Triad could land one of those big manufacturers because of our infrastructure and industrial history. But there's no telling how long that could take.
Digging deeper - we want to say our area is getting tax income from these solar farms. For example, records show Davidson County's farm has paid almost $50,000 a year. But the state gives them heavy tax breaks. Davidson is only taxed on 20 percent of its equipment. And back in 2011, 2 Wants To Know told you how this solar farm was delinquent on its tax bill. The company has since paid up.