Mortenson Construction to Use Robotic Equipment On “Primarily Renewable Energy Projects”

Mortenson Construction is one of the largest renewable-energy construction firms in the country, but it appears the firm will be dolling out less “green” to their laborers. A recent story in the Star Tribune discusses how Mortenson will be employing remote-controlled bulldozers to prepare sites for wind turbines instead of hiring laborers to man the machines.

The remote-controlled bulldozers will be first be employed on remote projects in Wyoming where worker housing and other logistical difficulties make automation  economically attractive, but there’s no reason to think it would be impossible for the company to begin using automated equipment in other areas of the country if this initial venture proves to be successful.

According to the Strib:

“Mortenson has been tasked with digging hundreds of tower foundations that are about 10 feet deep and 100 feet in diameter. Remote controlled bulldozers will also be used to level the ground using mapping software, GPS coordinates and surveyors equipment that will give the machines instruction.”

While this automation will likely help Mortenson complete these projects at lower cost, it casts doubt on the narrative that renewable energy will be a major jobs creator in Minnesota.

A recent jobs report found wind employed 2,223 in Minnesota, but one of the important thing to remember about jobs in the wind industry is that many of the jobs in this sector are construction jobs. In fact, a 2017 report from the Department of Energy shows 66 percent of the jobs in the wind industry are in construction and manufacturing.

Obviously, not all of the jobs in wind construction can be automated, but the trend bodes poorly for people who are employed in the construction sector for wind who are already likely to face headwinds as the federal subsidies for wind expire, reducing the viability of the wind industry.

The Green New Deal is supposed to provide prevailing wage jobs for union workers in the green energy industry to help alleviate losses in traditional energy fields like oil and gas development and coal mining. It looks like automation may be throwing a wrench in those plans.