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Greenspace: Renewables energizing job growth

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Minnesota is cleaning up on clean jobs. A report shows Minnesota’s clean and renewable energy industries are growing faster than the state’s overall job growth pace.

According to a report by Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs, there are 57,351 clean energy jobs in Minnesota. In the last year, Minnesota’s clean energy industry added 2,893 jobs — a 5.3 percent growth rate, which is faster than overall job growth in the state.

Energy-efficiency comprises the largest subsector of Minnesota’s clean energy jobs. Jobs in renewable energy generation grew the fastest among the clean energy subsectors with a growth rate of 15.7 percent. Overall, Minnesota’s solar and wind energy industries now employ more than 5,700 people.

That growth will likely continue as utility companies meet state renewable energy goals and set their own higher goals.

Currently, Rochester Public Utilities generates 83 megawatts of natural gas energy and 2.6 megawatts of hydro energy. The rest RPU purchases from the Southern Minnesota Municipal Agency whose generating capacity ratios are 52 percent coal, 20.1 natural gas and 17.4 percent percent from renewable sources. RPU also plans to eliminate coal by 2030 and add 18.5 megawatts of solar capacity and 150 megawatts of wind energy by 2035.

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However, RPU plans to build a 390-megawatt natural gas plant, which renewable proponents say is a step in the wrong direction.

"Rochester is uniquely poised because it’s a municipal utility company," said Rick Morris, Rochester clean energy organizer for Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter.

He noted Minneapolis has a plan to convert to 100 percent renewable electricity citywide by 2030 and St. Louis Park has made a 100 percent renewable commitment as well.

"Not only is it possible, but our neighbors are already doing it," Morris said.

Great River Energy announced in June its goal is to supply its cooperatives with energy from 50 percent renewable resources by 2030. Great River Energy has exited two contracts for coal-based electricity in recent years and, in 2017, retired a North Dakota power plant owned by the cooperative.

"Renewable energy, particularly wind, is currently our lowest-cost option for new generation resources," said David Saggau, Great River Energy president.

Other industries are seeing a job boom as the state’s clean energy industry moves to renewable and clean sources. About 34,000 construction jobs are supported by Minnesota’s clean energy economy, according to the CEEM report. Another 6,200 manufacturing jobs and 6,800 professional services jobs in Minnesota also are supported by clean energy, the report said.

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