Minnesota is now home to well over 100 renewable energy companies

The renewable energy sector is one of the fastest-growing industries in Minnesota.

Minnesota is now home to more than 100 companies involved in wind and solar energy generation, who between them employ thousands of people.

That's the finding of the Midwest-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which in a report released on Thursday identified 82 companies in Minnesota that are supplied in the solar power supply chain and 49 involved in wind energy supply.

The supply chain comprises any company that's involved in manufacturing, financing, designing, engineering. installing or maintaining renewable energy projects.

Minnesota ranks 7th nationally for installed wind power capacity, the report says, and renewable energy accounts for 21 percent of the total energy generated in Minnesota. This puts the state well ahead of schedule to achieve 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, as set out in the national Clean Power Plan.

And the renewable energy sector is expected to be one of the fastest growing industries going forward, with the Duluth News Tribune reporting the number of people employed in renewables expected to grow by 4.4 percent a year over the next decade, well beyond the overall predicted job growth rate of 0.5 percent.

As of January 2016, more than 5,300 people were employed by renewable energy generation companies alone, the newspaper notes. A further 47,000 people are employed in the "clean energy" sector, many of them working in energy efficiency positions in various industries.

"When a new solar installation or wind farm is built in Minnesota, the economic impact of that project goes well beyond the community that will be delivered the construction jobs and new tax revenue from the project, there can be a web of economic activity that extends across the state," Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

"Wind power and solar energy development drives economic and job growth. Every renewable energy project requires engineering, financial, manufacturing and construction businesses and workers."

Threats to renewable energy

The report comes at a time of uncertainty for the sector and the use of clean energy as a way to combat climate change.

President Donald Trump and his new administration are expected to reduce regulations imposed by the Obama administration that restrict fossil fuel use.

He sees America having a mixture of energy sources that involves oil, natural gas, renewables and so-called "clean coal," which he believes will boost job creation in deprived areas of the country.

Minnesota's largest energy provider, Xcel Energy, told GoMN it will still pursue plans for cleaner energy sources – which are becoming cheaper and cheaper to install and run – even if restrictions on fossil fuel use are implemented.

In Minnesota, too, there are some efforts underway that could have an impact on the renewable energy sectors.

The Pioneer Press reports that Republican lawmakers last week introduced a bill that would see the legislature take control of the state-funded "Made in Minnesota" solar incentive program away from Xcel Energy. They argue the funding should not be in the hands of a private company with little oversight.

The bill would see the money shifted into a general energy fund, to which Democratic lawmakers object because it would remove the "renewable" element, raising concerns that it would not be used exclusively for that purpose going forward.

Another bill put forward would stop the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from investigating connection fees that energy co-ops have started charging for residential solar panels, some of which can range from $7 to $83 a month. The Star Tribune has more on this.

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