WILMONT - Nobles 2 is sailing along smoothly.
Tenaska’s project to build up to 82 turbines across a 42,000-acre section of northern Nobles County faced no public opposition during two hearings in Wilmont Wednesday.
The Omaha, Neb. company expects to receive a site permit and certificate of need from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in October 2018 and start construction in summer 2019, according to Scott Seier, vice president of strategic development and acquisitions.
Included in Tenaska’s proposed site permit is a commitment to file quarterly reports with the PUC regarding the participation of local workers on the project and to encourage its contractor to hire locally.
Local, in this case, means a Minnesota resident or someone who lives within 150 miles of the project. Tenaska is expected to hire more than 200 temporary construction workers for the 260 megawatt project.
The company made the amendment after reaching an agreement with the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and Mankato Building and Construction Trades Council, which have been pushing back against companies outsourcing workers for their wind projects in southwest Minnesota.
“This is a major breakthrough for us,” said Kevin Pranis, marketing manager for LIUNA of Minnesota and North Dakota. “To my knowledge, this would be the first time a wind developer has agreed to such reporting in Minnesota. That gives us a good feeling about the project because if they’re not worried about how the reporting will look, it means that they take the issue seriously.”
Seier acknowledged the positive impact of hiring locally, adding that Tenaska hired 70 percent of its workers locally for its Imperial Solar Energy Center in southern California and awarded more than $20 million in contracts to local businesses.
“Tenaska and its engineering, procurement and construction contractors regularly track hiring numbers for our projects, and we have often shared our local hiring results with the community to show the economic impact of our projects,” Seier said. “In this case, we have committed up-front to providing those numbers.”
Pranis and others have been fighting for local construction hiring ever since they found that the Red Pine wind project near Ivanhoe used mostly outsourced construction workers.
A recent study from the North Star Policy Institute, a progressive policy think tank, puts the impact of local hiring into raw numbers.
The study says a local worker typically contributes approximately four times more to regional economies than a non-local worker through spending and benefits. With an estimated 1,300 workers to be hired for seven major wind projects across southern Minnesota, the employment-driven economic activity could realistically range from $41.2 million (10 percent local workforce) to $88.9 million (70 percent local workforce).
Tenaska believes the project will boost the local economy by a total of $350-400 million and result in more than $1.1 million in tax revenue to local units of government.