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The new green job scene

Wind turbines
Photo by Bill Kelley
Wind turbines are an important part of the emerging green economy.
The Line

In 2010, an article about green jobs in The Line mostly reported on what we didn't know. What's a green job? How many are there? Where are they?

From two reports since then, we now know that nearly 70,000 jobs in Minnesota fit the definition of green. Those jobs made up 2.5 percent of job vacancies between fourth quarter 2009 and second quarter 2011 in Minnesota.

Although the shift to and emphasis on green is largely seen as a response to environmental concerns, Matt Entenza believes that it's also just good business.

Matt Entenza
Photo by Bill Kelley
Matt Entenza served six terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now a senior adviser on energy and the economy to Gov. Mark Dayton.

"It's about cost competition and improving your margins," says Entenza, who served six terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now a senior adviser on energy and the economy to Gov. Mark Dayton. "If you can decrease the amount of energy or resources you have to use, or decrease the amount of pollutants you'll have to pay to dispose of, that means a stronger bottom line."

A green career

The green trajectory of Nina Axelson is instructive when thinking about the green sector of Minnesota's economy. Axelson's job fits the definition that theDepartment of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) used in researching the sector: any job where the worker spends at least half of his or her time on renewable energy, energy or resource efficiency, environmental cleanup, sustainable agriculture or resource conservation, or in educating, regulating, enforcing compliance, or researching issues related to the environment.

Axelson earned a B.S. in natural resources and environmental studies at the University of Minnesota. "Most of the classes I took were layered with the human dimension of the science world," she says. "How do policy, management, economics, and other human influences affect resource management and sustainability?"

Since graduating, Axelson has worked for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the St. Anthony Park Community Council, Best Buy, and now Ever-Green Energy in St. Paul. She's the director of public relations for Ever-Green, which develops and operates renewable energy systems. As with her previous jobs, Axelson's job is to communicate about green or sustainable practices. "I help translate engineering and technical information to many audiences for business development, general community education, and to help with our utility operations," she says.

The new IT?

Alessia Leibert
Photo by Bill Kelley
Alessia Leibert

You may have snoozed through the definition above, or think that 2.5 percent doesn't sound like a lot of jobs. But Alessia Leibert believes that jobs like Axelson's are an emerging sector of Minnesota's economy. Leibert is a senior research analyst for the Minnesota Labor Market Information Office and the author and lead researcher for "Minnesota's Emerging Green Economy: Green Jobs Report 2011," a report published by the Department of Employment and Economic Development of Minnesota.

For comparison, she suggests a more familiar segment: IT. "It's important not to underestimate the importance of an emerging sector because the signs are small," she says. "It took 10 or more years for IT to grow to its current size."

Leibert explains that DEED's definition was deliberately conservative. Counting only those jobs where a worker spends at least 50 percent of his or her time prevents overestimating, but it also means that there are probably many jobs that are close to green but still under the radar.

"If we did the same study again today, we might talk to a sales manager who, at the time, was responsible for selling a suite of product lines where 40 percent were green and 60 percent were not," Leibert says. "But if the company has added more green products and the mix shifts, that same job might be considered green today when it wasn't then."

Leibert contends that technology is driving the growth of this sector, so its growth comes in waves instead of a single linear rise. For example, bus driving isn'tt considered a green job, because while buses get drivers off the road, their idling adds to carbon emissions. But, Leibert says, the moment a bus company switches to an all-electric fleet, those jobs are suddenly green.

Where are the jobs?

So where are all these green jobs? Fortunately for Minnesota, the answer seems to be, "almost everywhere." Most importantly, there's a higher percentage of them in Greater Minnesota.

More than half of all green jobs in the state are naturally in the Twin Cities metro area, simply because the area has a much denser population and more jobs overall. But the share of jobs that were green in the metro area was a little less than 2.5 percent. In central Minnesota, on the other hand, over 4 percent of job vacancies were green, and the southwest and northeast regions both had nearly 3.5 percent. With significant green manufacturing in Owatonna, Faribault, and St. Cloud, wind energy development in the western and southwestern portions of the state, and solar development in the metro area and the northern part of the state, it's clear that there's something for almost every region in Minnesota.

Minnesota compared

Minnesota is also doing better, relatively speaking, than other states in this area. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an Employment in Green Goods and Services Survey, and its data show that in the percentage of green jobs, Minnesota is the second-greenest state in the 12 Midwestern states. And in terms of share, it competes with other states too. "California has 31,000 jobs in green manufacturing, which makes up about 2.5 percent of their manufacturing overall," Leibert says. "Minnesota has half that many [manufacturing] jobs, but 5.3 percent of them are green."

State standards are the driver

Discounts and rebates on energy-efficient products like windows, appliances, furnaces, or even solar panels from American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funds have driven some demand for green products and therefore some green jobs. But Leibert believes that state government standards have driven much more.

By 2025, 25 percent of electricity generated in Minnesota has to come from renewable sources, and that by the same year, the state has to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below what they were in 2005.

Attempts to meet those standards have driven demand for manufacturing companies in Minnesota that make precision controls and instruments like environmental control devices, pumps that control water flow, or programmable thermostats. "It cannot be overestimated how important some of these standards are for job growth and technology advancement," Leibert says. "Without these standards, the private sector might not have the incentive to invest in these products."

A matter of economics

For anti-government or pro-free-market enthusiasts, that might sound like an argument against those standards. But Entenza argues that without coal, oil, or natural gas resources in the state, it makes economic sense for Minnesota to work toward developing industries that create jobs right here at home.

"Developing solar and wind resources gives us a long-term supply of energy with low or no input costs, and we can become an energy center for the industrial heartland to the east," says Entenza. "We're not going to stop using natural gas or oil or coal, but it makes sense to move toward keeping more of our money and investment here in the state."

Next spring, the BLS will release new data for 2011 and 2012 in its Employment in Green Goods and Services Survey. That data will tell us how much the green sector has grown or contracted, both here and nationally. Stay tuned.

This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Holly Dolezalek's last article for The Line was a look at the Penny George Institute.

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Comments (2)

Green = layoffs

Recent layoffs by Vestas, the world's biggest wind company, and others, highlight the limited job potential in wind and solar farms. Those projects lose money without government subsidies and can't afford to hire many people. This contrasts with the hundreds of thousands of new good jobs from the boom in new natural gas and oil production.
Spain is a poster country for renewables. A study from KIng Carlos University showed that for each subsidized new green job, more than two jobs were lost in energy using industries because of higher energy costs. Spanish industries fled to France with its low cost reliable nuclear power.
The PTC for wind amounts to about 50% of the wholesale cost of electric power. Without it the wind business goes as quiet as those turbine blades on a muggy summer day when all ACs run and there isn't a 'breath of air'.

Renewable energy costs hobble industry

BERLIN -- It was exactly the kind of news that Chancellor Angela Merkel did not want.
Voerdal, an aluminum company employing more than 400 people, has gone into bankruptcy. It will close unless the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia comes up with a rescue package. This state-of-the art company is in such dire financial straits because of rising energy prices. Voerdal officials say that the company's energy bill went up to 40 percent of total costs, all because of the government's renewable energy policies.
Voerdal is not an isolated case in the energy-intensive sector, which is why Ms. Merkel, who faces re-election next year, is becoming worried.