Southern Minnesota Thrives With Local Wind Projects

08.27.18

Southern Minnesota Thrives With Local Wind Projects

When people think of Minnesota, images of lakes, hockey, the state fair and hot dish immediately come to mind. What people may not think of is wind power, but Minnesota is the eighth in the nation in net generation from wind energy, largely from wind farms in the southern regions.  In fact, wind energy conversion facilities provide almost 18% of the state’s power, and with at least seven major wind farm projects seeking permits or in pre-construction phases, that number will only go up. Not only does this provide green energy sources, but it also provides significant opportunities for economic development in Southern Minnesota. However, to reap the full economic benefits of these projects, contractors need to focus on hiring local workers, according to the North Star Policy Institute.

With each typical wind farm project, an estimated 97 full-time equivalent construction jobs would be created, from laborers and operating engineers, to iron workers and electricians. These jobs are across the spectrum of construction experience, creating well-paid opportunities for everyone from seasoned journeymen and women to workers with no experience in the field.

Unfortunately, some developers have been increasingly relying more on non-local workers. Non-local workers live too far away to commute to the site daily, so developers offer per diems to cover expenses for workers from across the country to work on their project.

Non-local workers spend much of their wages outside of the region, so it provides less economic development for the region. The North Star Policy Institute estimates that on a typical wind farm project, the difference between a project relying on 70% local workers or 30% local workers is approximately $3.5 million for a local economy. When these principles are applied to every potential new project in Southern Minnesota, that could mean a difference of $32 million for the region, a significant boost in the tax base for local schools and a substantial stimulus to local business.

As the North Star Policy Institute points out, “the region’s residents will continue to miss out on hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in local investment if nothing is done to shift industry practices. To increase the benefit of these wind farm projects for local communities, the institute recommends the follows actions for state officials and local communities:

  1. Secure commitments for local hiring goals during the project approval process.
  2. Require regular reports from developers on their use of local workers.
  3. Encourage collaboration with apprenticeship programs, such as those from Minnesota’s unions, which can help recruit, train and retain local workers.

The full report by the North Star Policy Institute can be found here.