Report forecasts continued clean energy job growth in Minnesota

Minnesota will add 2,300 jobs in the clean energy industry this year, according to a report released today by the Clean Energy Trust.

Of the state’s 54,000 clean energy jobs, 87 percent can be found in the energy efficiency sector. This employment includes tasks such as installing high-efficiency lighting and providing HVAC services and manufacturing Energy Star appliances.

The Minnesota report is part of the Clean Energy Trust’s “Clean Jobs Midwest” project that will also release individual reports from 10 other Midwest states today. The 12 state region has nearly 569,000 clean energy jobs; the first report to be released, on Illinois, revealed it has more than 113,981 clean energy jobs.

“Minnesota’s clean energy economy is developing rapidly with an increase in available jobs and above-average wages,” said Katie Clark Sieben of the Department of Employment and Economic Development in a prepared statement.

“The analysis released by Clean Energy Trust further emphasizes that Minnesota is a national leader in clean energy sectors due to a culture of innovation, smart policies and strong partnerships.”

In another statement, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said the report suggests Minnesota “must continue to pursue bold action to alleviate climate change and ensure that Minnesota is positioned to lead the clean energy revolution, reaping the benefits of good new jobs along the way.”

Gregg Mast, the executive director of the new industry-led nonprofit Clean Energy Economy Minnesota (CEEM), said the report shows different businesses adapting to new opportunities.

“The findings of the survey reinforce the point that some of our traditional industries, such as efficiency, are migrating toward accommodating their business to participate in a clean energy economy,” he said. “With energy efficiency representing 87 percent of all our clean energy jobs in our state that’s an encouraging sign.”

More than 25,000 fall into the HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) category, an area that is changing to include hardware and software installers, system technicians and others.

“The shift in traditional sectors such as HVAC illustrates a transition to embrace the clean energy economy as a business decision,” the report said.

Minnesota’s state policies have contributed significantly to creating more clean energy employment, Mast said. These include the state’s mandates on utilities for renewable energy, energy efficiency and solar energy.

“Those are all the right types of policies that signal to the business community that Minnesota is a place where you can come and grow your business,” he said. “Also businesses find there’s a unique ability here in Minnesota for them to work together in forging partnerships that continue to move us in the direction of a cleaner and more sustainable economy.”

Despite growing wind and solar industries in Minnesota, they employ relatively few employees. Solar employs 2,773, wind 2,181, the report showed.

The report’s numbers are “understated, clearly understated,” said Steve Webster, managing director and executive director of the Schultze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas.

Measuring clean energy employment is difficult because the job classifications haven’t been refined, he said. In the the future “we’ll find we’re actually much larger than this survey indicated,” Webster said.

In his own school, the number of people who are building clean energy companies or embarking on careers in the field have skyrocketed. Growing political urgency around climate change has encouraged growth in the sustainability field, especially in the startup sector.

“Startups are saying now is the time, I need to get in, because this is coming fast,” he said.

The report shows two prevailing trends in Minnesota. First is that the great majority of jobs, 80 percent, are created by small businesses of 25 or fewer employees. Secondly, and not surprisingly, most of the jobs, more than 38,000, are in the Twin Cities.

The Twin Cities has the second highest number of clean jobs in the Midwest after Chicago.

Duluth and St. Cloud were the only other Minnesota cities with more than 1,000 jobs in clean energy.

The Clean Jobs Midwest reports are based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data and comprehensive surveys of thousands of businesses across the region. Unlike other reports, it breaks down the data to feature job totals for the state’s major regional centers.

(Editor’s note: The employment total for Illinois was updated to reflect 2015 data released earlier this week.)

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