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Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland, left, and Nathan Paine, a research fellow with Minnesota 2020, an organization that promotes wind power, meet Wednesday to discuss the benefits of in-state wind energy development in Centennial Park in Moorhead. Photo by Heidi Shaffer / The Forum

Wind-generated jobs: Minnesota could see more than 3,000 renewable energy positions

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Minnesota could generate at least 3,000 jobs by catering to industries involved in making and installing wind towers likely to result from the state's ambitious renewable energy standard, advocates said Wednesday.

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Minnesota 2020, an organization that promotes wind, said the state's renewable energy standard - which obligates utilities to derive at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025 - can be an economic engine.

The group estimates 3,000 to 5,000 jobs could be created from attracting companies that make components for wind turbines or that erect them on the massive wind farms that are dotting the prairies.

Wind-related industries could also pump $8 billion into Minnesota's economy over the next 20 years, according to the analysis by Minnesota 2020, a "think tank" based in St. Paul.

"I think my estimate is conservative," said Nathan Paine, a research fellow with the organization, who used economic models developed by University of Minnesota economists.

Minnesota has a good base to build upon when it comes to developing industries involved in wind power, said Joe Sheeran, a Minnesota 2020 spokesman.

The state ranks fourth in terms of its installed wind-energy capacity, about 1,800 megawatts, or enough to power 450,000 homes, according to Minnesota 2020's figures.

Also, the state has a highly skilled work force, including in welding and manufacturing, that could be put to work building components for wind turbines, Sheeran said.

Minnesota already produces parts for wind towers, including turbines, housings for the gearboxes and bolts for the towers.

The severe recession has taken a toll on jobs in Minnesota, which has shed 35,000 or more positions in the past year, Sheeran said.

Although state and federal subsidies, including the production tax credit, make wind power economically viable, renewable energy sources will become more affordable if fossil fuels are subject to a carbon tax, he said.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said the city is working toward the goal of installing a third municipal wind turbine. The two towers, becalmed in the gentle breeze Wednesday morning, were visible in the background as the wind proponents spoke.

"We'll use as much as we can," the mayor said, noting that every kilowatt generated by wind turbines means the city's customers don't have to buy power elsewhere. More than half of Moorhead's electricity comes from hydropower, but that does not count as a renewable source, he said.

As utilities scramble to meet the 25 percent renewable energy standard by 2025, more wind farms will be needed to meet the demand.

"I'd like to see a lot of these projects built in Minnesota," Paine said.

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