Minnesotans support wind energy, so why aren't wind energy projects putting more of us to work?

The wind energy industry provides some of the best, and worst, examples of how major construction projects can either help or abandon local workers. Wind farm construction is dominated by a handful of large national contractors that employ a traveling workforce. Several wind contractors participate in labor agreements that commit them to hiring local workers, and these contractors have created hundreds of job opportunities for Minnesotans. Other national wind contractors feel no such obligation to employ locals, and they put few, if any, locals to work when they are hired to build a wind farm.

The Bitter Root Wind farm, a 152 MW wind energy project near Canby, Minnesota, is a case in point. Where past area wind projects like Prairie Rose have put many locals to work, eyewitnesses say the developer building Bitter Root, Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Americas, has relied largely on non-local labor for the wind farms they have built in Minnesota.

A 2018 report by the North Star Policy Institute, "
Catching the Wind: The impact of local vs. non-local hiring practices on construction of Minnesota wind farms," found that such differences in the use of local and non-local construction workers can translate into significant differences in local economic impact. The analysis found that local construction workers are expected to contribute three or four times more to local economic activity than non-local workers, and on a typical 150- or 200-megawatt wind project, the difference between largely local and non-local construction hiring can add up to millions of dollars gained or lost for local economies.

A new report, "Catching the Wind 2.0: An Update on Changing Employment Practices in Minnesota's Wind Energy Industry," takes a look back at the progress we have made over the last year and suggests additional steps we need to take to protect local workers and Minnesota communities. The report details positive developments over the last year including the implementation of new workforce reporting standards by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and efforts by some developers to hire more local workers. The news is not all positive, however, as too many developers continue to rely on outsourced labor to build Minnesota wind farms. This continued reliance on non-local workers is costing Minnesota communities millions in lost economic investment. 

You can learn more about the high cost of wind farm construction outsourcing by visiting the North Star Policy Institute website