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Minnesota experiencing clean energy job boom, but skilled workers are hard to find

ST. PAUL—Six years ago, IPS Solar in Roseville had just four employees. Today, it has more than 40 and expects to keep growing.

Eric Pasi, chief development officer of the commercial solar developer and installer, says much of that increase is due to legislation approved in 2013 that required more of the state's energy to be produced from solar power.

"That kind of growth is why we are so excited about supporting and nurturing the clean energy business in Minnesota, and why we've made being active in policy discussions a priority," Pasi said.

IPS was one of several firms featured Wednesday at a news conference held by Gov. Mark Dayton to tout the state's successes with renewable energy. Minnesota is now home to more than 59,000 clean energy jobs and more than 25 percent of the state's energy comes from renewable sources.

The state expects to add another 2,700 clean energy jobs next year.

"Minnesota's renewable energy standard set a great foundation for these advances," Dayton said.

Clean energy and environmental policy have been a top priority for Dayton's administration, which is coming to an end. The long-term future of those priorities does face some uncertainty because of changes at the federal level and Republicans at the state Legislature who often oppose government mandates and incentives for energy.

A new analysis from the Clean Energy Trust found green energy jobs in Minnesota grew at rate of 2.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, twice the rate as overall job growth in the state. Minnesota also had the strongest clean energy job growth in the Midwest, which saw an overall decline of 1.2 percent in the 12-state region.

Three out of four of those clean energy jobs are aimed at improving the energy efficiency. Energy storage is one of the sector's fastest-growing areas, but needs new incentives to continue to thrive.

"That really is the breaking field that is coming to the surface," said Kevin Bollom, vice president of services at Trane, who noted that companies often look for government incentives before investing in new energy-saving technologies.

Minnesota's clean energy industries have statewide impact with 40 percent of those jobs outside the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. St. Cloud now has the second-largest number of clean energy jobs, with 2,400, recently surpassing Duluth.

"This is important because it means the entire state is benefiting from our clean energy economy," said Greg Mast, executive director, of the Clean Energy Economy MN.

But the industry has struggled to find qualified workers with 85 percent of Minnesota clean energy firms reporting difficulty finding employees. That has led many firms to offer on-the-job training to enhance the available workforce.

It's not just installers and environmental engineers who are in need. Stephen Jones, Blattner Energy vice president of solar, noted that there were plenty of opportunities on the business side of clean energy.

"The diversity of jobs available today is a lot different then it was 20 years ago," Jones said.

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