Why investing in clean energy is a smart move for Minnesota | Opinion

Wind power has become an important source of economic development for rural Minnesota. Photo by Getty Images.

Minnesota’s clean energy industry is a bright spot in our state’s resilient and innovative economy. And a new economic analysis shows even greater potential for state economic development and growth, as long as we make the right investments in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies. 

Prior to the pandemic, our state was home to 61,800 clean energy jobs. These family-sustaining jobs include solar installers, wind turbine technicians, engineers who design energy-saving solutions for our homes and businesses, and the skilled workers who manufacture and install them.

The industry has thrived in the decade since our last recession. As in many areas of our economy, COVID-19 dealt a significant blow to clean energy jobs in Minnesota — the sector shed 14% of its jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels. Although the federal COVID-19 relief bill just passed into law contains several provisions that will provide a much needed boost for the industry, it’s a small move compared to what is possible. The economic analysis, which you can download here, shows that strategic investments of stimulus dollars into clean energy technologies will generate massive economic activity and benefits for Minnesotans.  

Just how big are we talking? According to the study’s author, the Analysis Group, an infusion of $15 billion in federal stimulus funding would add over $117 billion to our economy — a more than eight times return on investment. In part, that’s because public investment in these clean energy sectors can help unleash significant private spending — 2.5 times the public expenditure, for an estimated $37 billion in spending. These investments across a range of technologies — including energy efficiency, renewable energy like solar and wind, electrification of buildings and transportation, energy storage, grid modernization, and high-voltage transmission — would also generate nearly $7 billion in tax revenue and save consumers $5.5 billion on energy-related bills. 

This is why clean energy should be a central feature of any effort to lift up Minnesota’s economy coming out of the pandemic.

So, what would this stimulus money support? The analysis show it could serve as a powerful job creator by accelerating the build out of more low-cost wind and solar energy. It could be used to reduce energy waste by boosting efficiency programs that save consumers money. Stimulus funds could be invested into the critical infrastructure needed to modernize our electricity grid. It could also be used to help Minnesota drivers defray the costs of purchasing an electric vehicle.

Although this analysis is predicated on federal stimulus dollars, there is a vital role for Minnesota’s elected leadership, which needs to take full advantage of any help from Washington. With the pandemic leaving many people unemployed — including thousands of energy efficiency and clean energy workers — now is the time to invest in workforce training, re-training, and education programs. This is an opportunity to make sure no one is left behind as we seek to expand and diversify our talent pipeline. 

It also means passing legislation that enjoys strong bipartisan support that is already fully baked and vetted — like the Energy Conservation and Optimization Bill (or ECO Act). This bill would help jump-start the energy efficiency sector and put people back to work by expanding the state’s Conservation Improvement Program (CIP). CIP is Minnesota’s oldest and most successful energy efficiency program, having saved consumers more than $6 billion in energy costs. Passing the ECO Act would build on this success, providing new energy-efficiency options to consumers throughout Minnesota while simultaneously growing jobs and our economy. 

Minnesotans — and all Americans for that matter — have been through a lot over the past year. Let’s turn over a new leaf this legislative session. Let’s find bipartisan solutions and build a framework to fully realize a clean energy economy future. Let’s create more jobs; make our homes and buildings better, smarter and cleaner; shrink our energy bills; dramatically reduce our carbon emissions; and create a stronger economy for all — powered by clean energy.