State lawmakers joined members of the renewable energy industry Thursday to tout a new report about clean energy jobs in Minnesota and to call for a higher state energy standard.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, together with Sens. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, and Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, gave a news conference with Clean Energy Economy Minnesota CEO Gregg Mast, and a phone news conference for greater Minnesota reporters.
They announced the release of a jobs report from Mast's group noting the state boasts more than 57,000 clean energy jobs and that number had grown by 5.3 percent, with 2,893 new jobs in the last year. Smith pointed out the average wage for clean energy jobs is more than $70,000 a year, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
In Crow Wing County, there are an estimated 1,450 jobs in the clean energy sector. About 30 percent of the state's clean energy jobs are located in greater Minnesota.
Smith pegged the rise of clean energy to the industry itself and when the Next Generation Energy Act was passed under the administration of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and a DFL-controlled Legislature. The law called for 25 percent of energy in the state to come from renewable sources by 2025.
"We are almost there, almost 10 years early," Smith said.
There's a new standard being considered at the Legislature: 50 percent renewables by 2030. Smith and bill authors Housley and Frentz said the initiative would boost jobs, the environment and energy independence.
Housley said the bill received more feedback from constituents than any other bill she put forward in the last year.
"It was very, very exciting," she said. "I'm honored to be a co-author on the bill. The reason for the excitement is, the clean energy sector offers incredible economic potential for Minnesota."
Housley and Frentz intend to work with Clean Energy Economy Minnesota and to get the bill a hearing in the Legislature, and ultimately for it to be passed by her fellow lawmakers.
Frentz, the DFL co-author of the bill, pointed out Minnesota didn't have its own coal or oil, but it does have wind and sun. Roughly $18 billion in energy is imported into Minnesota annually, he said.
"We can use that money here in Minnesota," Frentz said.
Proponents gave an optimistic view of the bill's chances in the Legislature, despite acknowledging the bill introduced Feb. 17 faced more resistance than the bill 10 years ago. When asked whether they approached Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka or Speaker Kurt Daudt, Frentz and Housley said they hadn't yet. However, Frentz anticipated the majority of the Senate supporting the new standard, and Housley pointed out Gazela represents the Brainerd area, which has been making strides in the clean energy industry.