It's not like anyone's happy with the current condition of South Carolina's economy.

But advocates of a certain offshoot -- the green economy -- gathered Friday at the Best in Green and Local Expo in downtown Charleston to discuss how the state's environmental portfolio lags behind the rest of the country and Europe.

Panelists at a forum on green business focused on a few major themes: reducing the dependence on out-of-state energy sources, pushing local and statewide policies that encourage conservation and figuring out how to capitalize on the upcoming wave of renewable energy investment that could create thousands of jobs.

The group also called for a statewide energy plan that could bring together key players so they can push forward together.

"When (President John F.) Kennedy said we were going to the moon, he put the money and the mandate behind it," said director of business development Elizabeth Colbert-Busch for Clemson University's Restoration Institute. "Somebody has to say, 'We're going to the moon.' "

Brian Sheehan, the city of Charleston's director of sustainability, said relatively cheap power throughout the Southeast has fostered the problem of inefficient construction of homes and other climate-controlled buildings.

In response, city officials are coming up with a $2 million program that could make it easier for businesses and homeowners to borrow money for expensive but environmentally friendly upgrades.

Federal officials created a nearly identical program but ran into opposition from mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which expressed worries over what would happen if a homeowner stops paying either his mortgage or home energy upgrade loan. That controversy has put a spotlight on the local program and its potential success, said Ashlie Lancaster of the S.C. Home Energy Office.

Panelists pointed out that public-sector projects could spin off private-sector growth.

One example is Clemson's Restoration Institute, which is spearheading the construction of a $98 million wind turbine testing facility on the former Navy base in North Charleston. That lab could lead manufacturers to build drivetrains -- the cumbersome, heavy machines that local researchers will be testing -- and other types of renewable energy material in nearby warehouses.

Colbert-Busch noted that Boeing Co., which is expanding its North Charleston manufacturing campus to include an assembly line that will build 787 Dreamliner jets, uses the same type of light-weight composite materials that major wind turbine manufacturers do.

"Aeronautics and wind turbine manufacturing have very common synergies," she said.

Panelist and Democratic

gubernatorial hopeful Vincent Sheheen said South Carolina has better control of its energy situation because its largest power provider, Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper, is state-owned.

"The way our power structure is set up ... provides us a unique opportunity" to set energy goals, he said.

Sheheen called the Gulf Coast oil spill a "cautionary note," adding that he did not support drilling off South Carolina's coast.

Panelists also pointed out that South Carolina, unlike 35 other states, doesn't require that power companies buy a certain amount of renewable energy.

Until such policies are in place, they said that South Carolina will be stuck in "energy importing" mode.

At the event, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley handed out the city's first Green Pioneer Award to Charleston businessman Tony Bakker and two of his ventures: the Charleston Battery soccer team and Daniel Island-based software developer Blackbaud Inc., which Bakker started and grew into a multinational business.

The awards were started to recognize businesses and local leaders who are have been at the forefront of the city's sustainability movement.

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postand courier.com.