2022 Virtual Clean Energy Business Day at the Capitol Recap
Taking advantage of our workforce to grow Minnesota’s clean energy economy
The 2022 Virtual Clean Energy Business Day at the Capitol was March 2, 2022 and was a day dedicated to sharing with legislators how Minnesota’s clean energy businesses are leading technology innovation and helping shape the future of Minnesota’s clean energy economy. The event was put on in partnership with the Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE), Clean Grid Alliance, MnSEIA and the U.S. Green Building Council. The event was sponsored by All Energy Solar.
Governor Walz highlighted the significance of Minnesota’s clean energy business community and its many contributions to the state by delivering a proclamation that declared March 2, 2022 as Clean Energy Business Day in the state of Minnesota! This year’s virtual event included a legislative advocacy training session, the main morning session with a keynote speaker and a panel of legislative and business leaders, many meetings between clean energy advocates and their legislators and an in-person happy hour event at the Gnome Craft Pub in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Gregg Mast, Executive Director, Clean Energy Economy MN
The morning session was attended by 84 participants and was opened by Gregg Mast, Clean Energy Economy Minnesota’s Executive Director. His remarks highlighted the importance of speaking with local policymakers, especially in virtual settings. “Everyone here has helped illustrate why investing in energy efficiency and clean energy is a critical component to reviving our economy. When you show up at the Capitol and you explain how the pandemic has impacted your business, and how a certain policy might help — that connects the dots for policymakers and it helps transform a bill into a reality.”
Commissioner Grace Arnold of the Minnesota Department of Commerce
The keynote speaker for the event was Grace Arnold of the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Commissioner Arnold works to ensure that the Department of Commerce’s markets remain fair and accessible to all Minnesotans while propelling Minnesota forward as a leader in clean energy. She touched on some of the economic opportunities the department is looking to capitalize on in the upcoming year, which will further Minnesota’s position as a global leader in business strategy and technological development.
“The common thread for these proposals that Commerce is seeking from the legislature this year is clean energy business. It’s time to invest in our future by accelerating clean energy deployment and fostering public-private partnerships to spur clean energy business and job growth.”
She continued her remarks with some staggering statistics. In 2021, there was $300 billion in clean energy investments, globally. Of these investments, over $50 billion was made available in the US. Minnesota is in a position to capitalize on these funds, as the state’s forward-looking energy policies will support the growing economy and increase communities’ resiliency.
Commissioner Arnold is looking to expand the workforce and utilize local resources to enact these policies, beginning with local Minnesotans. Commissioner Arnold concluded her opening comments with the reading of Governor Walz’s proclamation declaring March 2, 2022 as Clean Energy Business Day.
Our panel this year consisted of clean energy business leaders and policymakers from the Minnesota legislature. This year, the panel was moderated by Logan O’Grady, Executive Director of MnSEIA, and consisted of Senator David Senjem, Representative Jamie Long, Bali Kumar of PACE Loan Group, Channon Lemon of Intent Energy and Sterling Sanders of LIUNA Local 563. They discussed a wide range of topics including the importance of the industry, opportunities within the industry and legislative initiatives that will support the industry and help meet those opportunities. Below is a brief overview of the best responses from each panelist. The responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge to the clean energy industry? The biggest opportunity?
Senator David Senjem: The challenges will always be the ideas of affordability and reliability. The opportunity lies in energy independence and grid resiliency. We have a strong foundation of renewable sources in the US, and if we take advantage of these opportunities, we can create a new energy landscape.
Representative Jamie Long: When you make any big transition, there will be some hesitancy. The challenge is facing these stranded assets or incumbents who don’t want to see change. In Minnesota, the opportunity for job creation is enormous as is the potential economic gain. We are moving toward a net-zero economy where the cost of inaction could be up to $14 trillion, while a net-zero economy would create a $3 trillion economic gain in the US.
Bali Kumar: The industry’s challenge is people not wanting to pay for the change. A lot of individuals don’t know what the “new thing” is and fear that it is really expensive. The opportunity, here, is that there are numerous cash flow-positive options. By expanding education, people will learn about the financial benefits that exist in the clean energy space.
Channon Lemon: The biggest challenge is integration, and how we collectively resolve the issues or barriers that we perceive. The opportunity is leveraging the talent that isn’t yet at the table and making this industry the best business practice as well as career pathway for individuals.
Sterling Sanders: The opportunity for the workforce is there, for skilled labor – the opportunity is huge for our members.
Q: According to the 2021 Clean Jobs Midwest report, over 55,000 Minnesotans work in clean energy jobs. Energy efficiency jobs represent about 75% of jobs in the industry, with renewable energy generation & advanced transportation the remaining. Last year’s fastest-growing sector was advanced transportation; what other areas do you see for job growth opportunities?
Senator David Senjem: Job growth in this industry occurs when we have employees. We know we have a growing industry here, so let’s not fall behind in expanding the workforce needed to cultivate this industry. This industry relies on people to make it work. I see potential in strengthening the research and development sector and supporting training programs for new employees.
Representative Jamie Long: Transportation is a huge sector for job growth. We certainly see the trend lines of where automobile manufacturing is going – primarily toward electric vehicles – and if we build out infrastructure, we will build jobs. There is also growth occurring in the energy efficiency sector, where improving Minnesota’s weatherization programs would reduce energy costs for consumers and create jobs across the state.
Channon Lemon: Job growth is happening across the board. We have an opportunity to identify baseline skillsets that align with businesses and industry sectors. By creating specific training programs in addition to existing trade and educational organizations, employers can save time and resources in hiring more skilled workers.
Sterling Sanders: For us, our training center is doubling in size, and we are bringing in as many new people as possible. Annually, we put in over 150,000 training hours for our roughly 3,000 members. Within the clean energy industry, infrastructure needs to be built and the labor needs to keep up with these demands.
Q: What incentives / programs / policies are needed?
Representative Jamie Long: As the industry is scaling up, there is a growing need for additional jobs and job creation. The workforce is looking for family-supporting jobs, and many schooling options don’t always suit these needs. State schools and trade programs play a huge role in creating a well-developed workforce, and more funding is needed to develop these alternative educational options.
Bali Kumar: There can always be more policies, but it’s also important to think about the bills we have now, and how we can better them. Building a new building to code is building the worst building legally allowed, we want people to be building above code, but how do we secure the funds to go that next step and ensure overall efficiency standards? People are skeptical until they see the numbers in front of them, and it’s important to look at how we can not only use our current tools but refine them as well.
Channon Lemon: There is a huge opportunity to incentivize training. Training young individuals is important for the future of the industry, but there are also professionals in other industries who have qualified skill sets and can begin working today. Just as we need more workers, we also need additional leadership in business development to diversify suppliers and contractors.
Sterling Sanders: It’s really important for contractors to be willing to look for a diverse field of employees. We rely on contractors to hire employees, so they are the link to expanding Minnesota’s workforce.
Q: What is needed for Minnesota to be a regional leader on clean energy? How can we make Minnesota a nationwide and global leader for clean energy?
Channon Lemon: In Minnesota, we need to harness clean energy to drive our economy. As long as we focus on business creation and supply chain management, while keeping watch on national and global benchmarking, we can be ready to leverage the areas that we are strong in. For Minnesota, this means working with businesses so they can be a part of this on-ramp.
Q: What opportunities do you see in growing clean energy in greater MN?
Senator David Senjem: Greater MN has the land and, frankly, the people. If you have the land and the people, you need the will in terms of the product. There are lots of opportunities out there, it is really a matter of stepping up and taking advantage of them. Young people are looking for careers and this is a great one.
Representative Jamie Long: We know that a lot of the installations that we talk about will take place in greater MN, so there is huge potential for job growth and tax breaks in these areas. These opportunities will not only benefit schools, but the tax revenues will continue to support their futures. At a state level, these projects begin with reducing regulatory barriers.
Bali Kumar: In terms of real estate development, a lot of it takes place in metro areas. Around the state, though, lots of folks are looking to capitalize on the land that they own. Many people are considering solar farms, and some who live near lakes are even looking at harnessing hydropower. The more we talk about using natural resources, the more people will look into it.
Q: How can the business community help the Legislature make policy / priorities?
Senator David Senjem: Legislators listen to constituents and, in this case, these are business coalitions. It’s been difficult with restrictions, but reach out. Come to the Capitol and visit, or Zoom with us back home so we can learn about you. Talk to local legislators, invite them out to coffee, do the simple things. Industry relationships are crucial to enacting change.
Representative Jamie Long: Not every voice at the Capitol feels the same way. We need folks like these on the call to come to the Capitol and push for policies. Legislators need to hear that clean jobs exist and that economic growth is happening across the state.
We wrapped the day with a happy hour at the Gnome Craft Pub in St. Paul Minnesota. We had a great group of nearly 50 clean energy advocates gather for a night of fun, reunion and networking. We were thrilled to be able to gather in person for part of our day.
While we were disappointed to not hold an in-person event at the Capitol again this year, we are so thankful for everyone who helped to make this hybrid event a success. We look forward to being together again in 2023 and for our work together the remainder of this year to advance clean energy in Minnesota.