By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –Werner Electric has been in business nearly 100 years, but it owes a recent expansion of its massive parts distribution center to the sun and wind.

Ben Granley, Werner’s president, says in the last five years, employment has jumped 50 percent.

He attributes the jobs to the company’s entry into supplying the parts for renewable energy installations.

“Between the solar piece and the energy efficiency piece, these are the main drivers for our company’s growth and strategy for the future,” he said.

It’s born out in a new survey released Thursday by Clean Energy Economy Minnesota.

“Clean energy jobs grew four times faster than all other sectors of the state’s economy,” said Gregg Mast, of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota.

The industry added nearly 2,900 jobs last year.

A decade ago, Minnesota set a goal of getting 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. We’re nearly there.

So lawmakers are pushing to double that with the Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard, which would seek to have 50 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030.

Sen. Nick Frenz (D-Mankato) is the bill’s author.

“We don’t have coal in the ground in Minnesota, don’t have any oil we can drill, but we have wind and we have solar,” he said.

Wind and solar farms continue to grow, popping up in farmland, community gardens and on company rooftops. They bring clean energy to consumers and more jobs to the state.

“Just creates more opportunity for everybody,” Frenz said.

The challenge, of course, is to make renewable energy competitive with conventional energy sources.

While incentives and tax credits are phasing out, which could make clean energy less appealing, the cost of installations is getting more affordable

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