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Minnesota's solar power jobs doubled in 2015; growth will continue

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The number of Minnesotans employed in the solar energy industry has more than doubled in the last two years, new figures show.

A growing push to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources, backed up by solar-friendly laws, is behind the rise in employment in the solar industry in Minnesota, according to a report by The Solar Foundation.

The report says that 1,995 Minnesotans worked in the solar energy industry last year, a 131 percent rise on 2013.

The Solar Foundation says much of this is down to the Solar Energy Standard the state adopted in 2013, requiring large utilities to generate 1.5 percent of their energy from solar sources by 2020.

The state also offers the Solar Incentive Program, which offers an annual budget of up to $15 million for 10 years for solar power projects.

Initiatives like these have led to the state's biggest energy provider Xcel Energy launching its Community Solar Gardens project, allowing Twin Cities residents to invest in and benefit from small solar gardens set up in rural areas.

Midwest Energy News reports applications to build solar gardens generating a combined 1,400 Megawatts of energy have been submitted to Xcel since the project was launched.

Also scheduled for completion by the end of 2016 is the Aurora Solar Project, which was approved last May and is seeing Geronimo Energy build solar arrays totaling 100MW across 25 sites in Minnesota for Xcel Energy.

With Minnesota's current installed capacity standing at just 30 MW as of the end of 2015, the boost to Minnesota's solar capacity suggests the industry's workforce is likely to grow even more over the coming decade.

David Shaffer, of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, told Midwest Energy News he expects Minnesota's solar power capacity to rise to 1,000MW in the next three years.

Where are Minnesota's solar workers?

The report found that Hennepin County has the most solar power workers – perhaps unsurprising given that Xcel is based in downtown Minneapolis – with the metro area counties of Ramsey and Dakota employing the second and third most.

The Duluth and southeast areas of Minnesota also employ high numbers of solar workers.

It was announced this past September that Duluth is getting its own community solar gardens, with Minnesota Power building 40KW and 1MW arrays in the city which will cut energy bills for local residents.

Despite doubling its workforce, Minnesota still ranks just 22nd in the nation for solar power employment. It is home to 136 solar companies, also the 22nd highest in the nation.

It ranked lower for the amount of solar power it generates though, coming 41st for "solar resources" and 29th for having 4,218 homes powered by solar.

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