By Nate O’Reilly, President, Southeastern Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council –
All around Rochester and throughout Southeastern Minnesota, the transition to Minnesota’s energy future is on full display – gigantic wind turbines towering over the horizon, utility-scale solar farms soaking up the sun, and electric vehicle charging stations starting to appear at local service stations.
As the momentum accelerates toward cleaner energy, I think it’s important to understand that someone has to build, maintain and upgrade not only the new clean energy resources, such as wind and solar farms, but existing legacy energy resources including natural gas, coal and nuclear, to ensure a smooth transition to Minnesota’s energy future.
Who are those folks? They’re your neighbors – ironworkers, electricians, pipefitters, laborers, and heavy equipment operators, to name just a few. Minnesota’s union construction professionals whose skills, knowledge and dedication to quality and safety, make it possible for us to turn on the lights in their homes and businesses.
While their work often goes overlooked, their impact is sizeable on our economy. For example, last year, the Ironworkers Local 512, with its 2,000 members across the state, contributed $27 million to healthcare, of which, 10% went to the Mayo Clinic alone. That’s just one trade union.
Bumpy Road Ahead
The road to a clean energy future in Southeastern Minnesota is going to be bumpy. The fact is, not all of our trades will benefit from the building of new wind and solar farms. That’s because wind and solar farms don’t require the same amount of maintenance as a coal, natural gas or power plant. In addition, future job opportunities are threatened by the use of workers from outside our state who don’t contribute to the long-term vitality of our local communities.
But it doesn’t need to be that way, in my opinion, if we can stick together, and come to understand the value of doing right by our neighbor — in other words, support the use of Minnesota union construction workers building a new wind project or updating a wind farm built 20 years ago with new technology. I’d like you to consider three thoughts:
Experience and Skills that Count – We have thousands of highly trained construction workers in Southeastern Minnesota who have deep experience in building Minnesota’s energy infrastructure, including wind and solar farms. Our home-grown talent is committed to doing their absolute best, because they know they have to answer to their friends, families and neighbors about the quality of Minnesota energy infrastructure.
Energy Balance – When the wind isn’t blowing and when the sun isn’t shining, you’re not making energy. The fact is, until effective, cost-efficient, utility-scale battery storage can be created, we need to rely on energy sources such as natural gas and nuclear power to provide the reliability to power our homes and businesses. In the meantime, we need to support the development of hydrogen power while addressing carbon emissions with large-scale carbon capture systems.
Get Our Priorities Straight — While commitments have been made to reduce carbon emissions, there isn’t a clear, comprehensive road map as to how we’ll actually get there. In the next two years, there will be three new clean energy projects built near Rochester that will dramatically increase Minnesota’s power generation. I think this is incredible, but it’s still not clear to me how these and future clean energy projects all fit together into a cohesive strategy for Southeastern Minnesota or for greater Minnesota.
We all depend upon reliable energy to power our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. Now is the time where we must come together to create an energy future where all benefit. Because when you live where you work, your work improves where you live. There’s no one more ready to build that future than Southeastern Minnesota construction trades professionals.