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Despite sabotage, green energy jobs are blowing up in Minnesota

Clean energy has become Minnesota's fastest growing employer, with an average wage of $71,000 a year.

Clean energy has become Minnesota's fastest growing employer, with an average wage of $71,000 a year. Wikimedia

Donald Trump has done his best to prop up fossil fuels at the expense of green energy.

The Republican tax bill handed windfalls to virtually every major corporation in the country—while trying to slash investment credits for renewables, only to be thwarted by members of his own party. Meanwhile, the country’s climate-denier-in-chief has threatened to lower auto emission standards, prop up coal, gut energy efficiency programs, and kill research.

All while the fossil industry’s welfare tab runs a staggering $20 billion annually.

Here in Minnesota, the Center of the American Experiment, a right-wing front group, has erected billboards in southern Minnesota claiming “Wind energy is NOT the answer,” hoping to sow doubt in the hearts of farm country.

Despite their best efforts at sabotage, they’re being soundly routed by a brawnier foe: free enterprise.

Minnesota’s green industry is blowing up. And capitalists are leading the charge.

That’s the finding of Clean Energy Economy MN. If you care about Mother Nature, or delight in a boom of high-paying jobs, this business group has very good news for you.

Renewables now account for 25 percent of Minnesota’s energy. While that may not seem impressive at face value, it’s a monster jump from 2000, when the number was a meager 4 percent.

Better yet, clean energy now employs 59,000 Minnesotans, working in everything from green window manufacturing to retrofitting HVAC systems to researching fuel cells. That’s six times the employment of the fossil industry. And they’re getting paid.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates an average income of $71,000 a year, 42 percent higher than the state average.

And while the Twin Cities are hogging the lion’s share of the jobs, 40 percent are in outstate Minnesota, offering a glint of prosperity in towns that have seen few moments in the sun. (See map.) St. Cloud, for example, has 2,400 jobs.

Perhaps more important is that it all can’t be taken away by the whim of a CEO who’d prefer a Third World payroll. This is a diversified industry. Seventy-four percent of its businesses employ 20 or fewer people. That means they’re more likely to sponsor a Little League team than kill your job to fatten a quarterly earnings report.

There is, however, a bit of darkness on the horizon. Trump has placed a 30 percent tariff on the import of solar panels, causing $2.5 billion in projects to be canceled nationwide. This despite the fact that solar employs three times what the coal industry does.

There’s also no knowing how retaliatory tariffs might harm America’s green exports.

But while the saboteurs may be able to break a few spokes, they’ll have a hard time stopping this march of capitalism. Consumers are demanding cleaner energy, and companies of all sizes are responding in kind. Their bottom lines say that green is good. And consensus among executives is there’s no going back.

Besides, clean energy is being captained by Minnesota’s brightest entrepreneurs, people who built the state’s fastest growing industry from scratch. They won’t slink quietly from lapdogs barking at their feet.