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Celebrating Earth Day: Construction Trades Professionals build Solar, Wind Power for Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Future

Celebrating Earth Day is more than just reducing, reusing, and recycling; it’s also about spreading awareness about the construction career opportunities that are found in Minnesota’s renewable energy sector.

Construction jobs in the renewable energy sector are some of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. According to Reuters, the number of jobs in renewable energy worldwide increased in 2020, despite the huge economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2021 report released by sponsors E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and nonprofits Clean Energy Trust and Clean Energy Economy Minnesota revealed that wind-and-solar power have become the cheapest forms of electrical energy accommodating state-and-federal legislation.

While clean energy can encompass a wide variety of types of energy generation, including hydroelectric, geothermal, and nuclear power, the two fastest growing forms of clean energy are solar power and wind power. With new technology, both types of clean energy are able to more efficiently harvest the power of sun and wind, which in turn, has made them more cost-effective in comparison to traditional forms of fossil fuel energy such as utility-scale coal, oil and natural gas. In the years to come, new forms of clean energy may include green and gray hydrogen power and possibly fission power.

“As Minnesota and other Midwest states make the transition to clean energy from fossil fuel energy, more construction workers will be needed in the years to come to build and maintain clean energy power plants,” said Mary Stuart, Associate Director of the Construction Careers Foundation, a Twin Cities nonprofit that introduces young people to careers in construction through educational opportunities. “For young people who like working with their hands and want to be part of the future, now is the time to explore a career in construction.”

Explore Construction Careers in Renewable Energy

Building a solar power plant or a wind farm requires construction workers such as heavy-equipment operators build service roads or dig the foundation for a wind turbine, electricians to wire a power plant and connect it to the grid, or laborers to organize construction materials and ready a site for other construction professionals to do their work.

Here are some careers in Minnesota’s construction industry that are involved in the creation and maintenance of our most prominent renewable energy sources — solar power grids and wind farms.

  • Laborers – Measures, cut, assemble, and bolt, organize materials on a clean energy construction site.
  • Heavy equipment operators — Uses bulldozers, backhoes, excavators, and scrapers to procure the landscape for installation.
  • Pile Drivers – May drive steel, concrete, or wood piling into the earth during the early stages of construction.
  • Electricians – Inspect and install electrical systems, read technical and wiring diagrams, including blueprints and adhere to state and local regulations based on the national electrical code.
  • Construction managers – Oversee operations and direct crews to specific locations on site.
  • Foremen – Adhere to safety practices, meet deadlines, and manage groups of trades workers.

Solar Power Generation

If you’ve seen solar panels on a house, a school or even rows of panels in what looks like a farm field, you’re looking at solar power. Solar power is popular for its versatility in generating electricity. It can be used to heat water, heat and cool homes and commercial buildings, power streetlights, and much more. Solar power ranges from utility-scale solar power plants that supply large amounts of electricity to the power grid to commercial solar power used by businesses as well as residential solar power generated by homeowners and businesses that have panels installed on their roofs.

To construct utility-scale solar power plants, a range of construction professionals are needed – electricians, heavy-equipment operators, pipefitters, laborers, and more.

Wind Farms

The American Wind Energy Association says Minnesota has more than 2,400 turbines. To add to the list above – ironworkers and sheet metal workers are also commonplace on wind turbine sites. Both help fabricate, install, and repair wind turbines. 

Local 512 Ironworker Apprentice, Ashlyn Curtis sometimes climbs more than 300 ft. with 20 lbs. of equipment on her body to repair a power cell at the top of a turbine.

“Working on wind power is something I never imagined that my career in construction would lead me to,” Curtis said. “It’s a surreal experience being able to learn skills for my career and practice them on Minnesota’s new energy projects.”

Curtis represents the future of Minnesota union construction workers who will change the state’s energy landscape through planning, building and maintaining renewable energy sites, according to the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council.

For apprentices such as Curtis, worksites provide a time to practice new skills and learn from other construction professionals. Thousands of Minnesota’s 70,000 union construction professionals representing 15 trades work on energy sites across the state advocate for accessible and cost-affordable energy.

“I worked with 20 to 25 experienced ironworkers on wind farm projects and I’m proud that I can learn alongside them and represent the future of construction professionals who will build Minnesota’s clean energy landscape,” Curtis said. “It’s been an incredible learning experience.”

Do you have what it takes to work in Construction at Renewable Energy Sites?

“Renewable energy work sites typically exist in more rural areas where there’s enough space for a solar field or wind turbines,” said Stuart. “For construction workers, this usually means commuting to a worksite, following site-specific safety demands and diligently working with other trades professionals to complete a project.”

If working in renewable energy is an interest of yours, there are a number of certifications to help you become more qualified on specific energy worksites. Union training centers have additional safety courses, and technical tests that journey workers can pass to receive specific credentials to work on or lead a crew at an energy site.

To learn more about registered apprenticeships in Minnesota’s building and construction trades visit https://constructioncareers.org/apprenticeship/.