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Jobs could follow renewable standards

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's increasing wind energy emphasis could lead to 15,000 new jobs, a House committee heard Monday.

Lynn Hinkle of the United Auto Workers suggested that the soon-to-be-closed St. Paul Ford Ranger pickup manufacturing facility become a wind turbine manufacturing plant.

"For every one production job, there are 10 more (workers) standing behind those," Hinkle said, adding that Minnesotans from the Iron Range to southwestern Minnesota would benefit from a renewable energy expansion.

"This is an opportunity of a lifetime," he said.

Hinkle's suggestion came while the House Energy Committee considered Rep. Aaron Peterson's bill to require 25 percent of the state's energy to come from renewable sources such as wind by 2020.

The committee will continue discussion Wednesday, when amendments to the Peterson bill will be debated.

Also on Wednesday, the full Senate will take up a similar bill. Senators could give final approval to its proposal on Thursday.

The Senate measure calls for 25 percent of Minnesota's electricity to be generated by renewable sources by 2025. Xcel Energy would have to produce 30 percent of its energy by renewable methods by 2020.

Hinkle said the 15,000 new-job figure came from studying a similar situation in Germany.

"I intentionally tried to avoid hyperbole," he added.

However, Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, questioned Hinkle's numbers, saying 15,000 jobs "may be overstating it just a bit." Beard's main concern was once the initial wind turbines are built, there will be much less need for the manufacturing plant.

Peterson, DFL-Madison, guessed that about 3,000 new wind turbines would be needed to meet the new mandate.

Duane Ninneman of Ortonville, in extreme western Minnesota, told the committee residents of his area understand the importance of wind power, given the success of corn-based ethanol.

President Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union, and father of Rep. Peterson, said a renewable energy mandate would have the same impact of the ethanol mandate he authored when in the state House.

Mike Franklin of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce warned that Peterson's bill does not adequately protect electric users from power cost increases.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.