Minneapolis City Hall. Credit: August Schwerdfeger / Creative Commons

Minnesota could create 15,000 jobs and save more than $3.1 billion by reducing energy use in municipal buildings, universities, schools and hospitals, according to a new report.

The report, “20 for MN: A Proposal To Reduce Minnesota’s Energy Use In The M.U.S.H. Sector By 20 Percent,” was released earlier this week by the BlueGreen Alliance, which coordinates labor unions with environmental groups.

“We’re hoping the report brings more attention to the fact that this is one of the areas of the economy that can improve the environment and creates jobs,” said Minnesota regional program manager Bree Halverson.

Energy efficiency initiatives naturally create local jobs, she said. The report suggests 50 percent of energy efficient equipment is locally sourced.

A concentrated effort would spark overall employment in various fields and across the state because investment in aging buildings is needed everywhere, Halverson said.

Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 10 Political Director Pete Parris said energy efficiency programs provide jobs for sheet metal workers, carpenters, electricians and even plumbers.

Schools alone represent a huge renovation opportunity, he said. The American Society of Civil Engineers reports Minnesota’s schools have $3.7 billion in infrastructure needs.

Many schools could use new heating, cooling lighting and window systems but districts often don’t have the money to pay for capital improvements, Parris said.

The money saved on energy costs in the sector targeted by the report, now known as M.U.S.H. (municipal buildings, universities, schools, hospitals), could be used for other investments in human capital, infrastructure and other needs, he said.

Halverson pointed out the typical ways schools manage capital projects is through levy increases and bonding. But other financing options are emerging that could work in Minnesota to pay for improvements.

The state could create a green bank – as have Iowa and Kentucky—to fund energy improvements. Federal and state funds could be tapped. Green bonds, PACE (property assessed clean energy) programs, closing tax loopholes and using other financing instruments could help pay for improvements, too, the report noted.

The BlueGreen Alliance has begun having initial conversations with legislators to encourage them to consider creating financing options for the M.U.S.H. sector going forward, Halverson added.

Frank is an independent journalist and consultant based in St. Paul and a longtime contributor to Midwest Energy News. His articles have appeared in more than 50 publications, including Minnesota Monthly, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Technology, Finance & Commerce and others. Frank has also been a Humphrey policy fellow at the University of Minnesota, a Fulbright journalism teacher in Pakistan and Albania, and a program director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College. Frank covers the state of Minnesota.