Wind energy might generate jobs, but not necessarily in Minnesota

One of the most commonly touted benefits of the solar or wind energy industries is that they create a lot of jobs. At a three-day training on environmental advocacy held in Minneapolis recently –  the Climate Reality Leadership Corps – Minnesota’s Governor, Tim Walz, said “(A green economy) is the job creator of the future.” But a new report suggests that renewable energy’s impact on jobs in Minnesota is overstated.

A new report from the Minnesota and North Dakota chapter of the Laborers’ International Union of North America finds that, even though there’s been an uptick in local hiring for the construction jobs this year, wind developers rely heavily on traveling workers, often from other states.

As Minn Post reports,

Lucas Franco, the LIUNA branch’s research manager, says workers from states like Texas, Utah and California are often cheaper and can make up the bulk of a project in Minnesota. In-state residents or workers living within 150 miles of a major wind farm in Pipestone County accounted for 32 percent of construction hours worked, for example. Preliminary research done by LIUNA also suggests solar developers often lean on out-of-state workers for construction, Franco said.

“It’s a big concern for us, particularly in the context of this moment, of our energy infrastructure transition that we’re in,” he said. “A lot of clean energy advocates are trying to build popular support for new wind and solar projects, and I think that’s hard to do when folks in the conventional energy sector are losing their work and not necessarily finding work building wind farms or solar farms.”

We should never forget that the energy industry exists to create energy, not jobs. Renewables, particularly solar, typically do a poor job of this in terms of energy generated per worker.

Even so, as Gov. Walz’ recent comments illustrate, supporters often use a raw headcount of staff as a mark of success. We’ve pointed out before that claims of clean energy job gains are often artificially inflated by counting jobs that are only loosely related, such as installers of energy-efficient appliances. This new report illustrates one further way in which, in Minnesota’s case specifically, these employment numbers aren’t all they are made out to be.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.