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Minnesotans support wind energy, so why won't a leading wind developer put more of us to work?

Minnesotans hear about major new building or infrastructure construction, and we assume that the project will contribute to the local economy by putting  local people to work.  After all, big projects not only provide employment to local construction workers, but also create opportunities for new entrants to the skilled construction workforce.  The wages and benefits paid to local construction workers are reinvested in the local economy, enabling area workers to buy homes, patronize local businesses, pay taxes, and contribute to civic life. 


Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way.  While some project owners are committed to creating jobs for local residents, others hire contractors that rely on out-of-state or even foreign workers and shut locals out.  The worst actors play a game of bait-and-switch: promoting construction job opportunities while selling the project without disclosing that few, if any, of the jobs will be filled by locals.  Community members who lend their support to the project  discover too late that the anticipated payroll, benefits, work experience, and career opportunities may never materialize.


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.


Red Pine Wind, a 200 MW wind energy project locate west of Marshall, is a case in point.  Where past area wind projects like Prairie Rose have put many locals to work, developer EDF has hired a general contractor that evidently relies largely on out-of-state workers. As Garritt Thomssen, a skilled operating engineer from Lake Benton who worked on Prairie Rose, observes, "I thought Red Pine would be the same, but can't think of a single person from our working on the project.


We don't have to let developers take advantage our local communities.  Developers need our help to get projects approved by regulators and funded.  Before we lend our support to projects, we can demand that these developers commit to providing high-quality job opportunities to local workers.  If we work together, we can make sure that Minnesota's resources are developed in ways that put Minnesotans to work.