Jobs related to clean energy in Minnesota have grown 5.3 percent over the past year, a significant uptick that prompted a bipartisan team of state lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to call Thursday for boosting the state's renewable energy goals in 2018.
Over the last year, the state added 2,893 jobs in the clean energy industry for a total of 57,351 jobs, according to a new report from the nonprofit group Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, an industry-led nonprofit group. That's nearly four times faster than the overall job growth rate in Minnesota — and evidence that the state should keep up the momentum, officials said in a news conference at the State Capitol.
Clean energy jobs now comprise 1.9 percent of the state's total employment, with the bulk of those jobs involved with increasing energy efficiency, in buildings for instance.
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, said 1,100 new jobs have been created in her Stillwater-area district since the state began targeting clean-energy jobs a decade ago. Now, she and Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, are urging their colleagues in the Legislature to tighten Minnesota's standards to ensure the state can attract more jobs and out-compete others in the region.
"Today's report indicates that Minnesota has the capability to lead the way, but we can't rest on our laurels," Housley said. "There's more work to be done."
The state is currently working to ensure that 25 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources by 2025. Housley and Frentz want to increase that goal to 50 percent by 2030. The lawmakers introduced that idea in this year's legislative session, but it failed to pick up traction.
Now, they are hoping that the evidence from the growing clean-energy industry might convince skeptical lawmakers that Minnesota should do more. Housley noted that a handful of her GOP colleagues recently traveled with Frentz to Germany to check out renewable energy industries there, and came home impressed.
Frentz said he believes Minnesotans should look at the issue as it relates to creating jobs and growing local economies — and that goals in those areas can be separate from political debates over climate change.
"We don't have any coal in the ground in Minnesota, we don't have any oil that we can drill," he said. "But we have wind, and we have solar."
The lawmakers said Minnesota should continue to act independently on its renewable energy goals, even as President Donald Trump and others in the federal government prioritize more traditional energy sources, like coal, over development in wind, solar, biomass or other renewable options.
Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said he sees more room for growth in those areas, including expansions of solar-energy gardens, which residents can join to help generate energy for their homes.
Smith said she disputes the "false choice" some critics raise between increasing renewable energy sources and keeping energy costs affordable for Minnesotans.
"For us, this is just a common-sense approach to moving Minnesota forward, and keeping Minnesota on the forefront of being a great, job-creating state," she said.
The energy efficiency sector accounted for 86.1 percent or 49,359 of clean energy jobs in Minnesota, according to the study. Energy efficiency jobs include workers involved in trades such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) that make buildings more energy efficient.
The category also includes manufacturers of energy efficient products, such as window makers Marvin Cos. and Andersen Windows. Clean Energy Economy includes jobs that only partly involve clean energy. So an HVAC worker might be working on both traditional and clean-energy related projects; ditto for window manufacturers.
Star Tribune staff writer Mike Hughlett contributed to this report.