Solar facility construction brings significant benefits when local workers employed

Developers of utility-scale solar farms often project job creation for local residents during their initial pitches to communities, and a recent study confirms the benefits of such projects.

Forward Analytics, the research arm of Wisconsin Counties Association, analyzed the economic impacts of constructing a hypothetical 150-megawatt solar farm in rural Wisconsin and found that using all local workers would generate $11.8 million in economic activity within the region.

Comparatively, a workforce composed entirely of out-of-state workers would generate from $4.6 million to $6.8 million in economic activity, according to the study.

“It is local ratepayers who pay the costs of these solar projects and reap the benefits,” said Forward Analytics Director Dale Knapp. “Part of the benefits … is increased economic activity during construction.”

Two utility-scale solar arrays are under development in Grant County, and economic planners hope to see local businesses profit.

“I have seen the benefits at the hotels with the construction crews that come in,” said Ron Brisbois, executive director of Grant County Economic Development Corp. “The apartment units being rented. Also, the impact to the grocery stores and restaurant industry.”

But developers cannot guarantee local workers will be used.

The Grant County Solar Energy Center, a 200-megawatt facility planned in Potosi Township, is estimated to require 250 to 350 workers during the construction phase and a handful of maintenance positions after the facility is running.

The company overseeing the project, NextEra Energy Resources, anticipates the farm will enter service by the close of 2023. It will span 1,400 acres.

The state is requiring the company to report on its efforts to recruit local workers in quarterly reports. To date, the company has not reported any physical construction activity. A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Alliant Energy also plans a 50-megawatt solar facility in Cassville. The company awaits state approval, which is expected to occur in late spring or early summer.

Alliant anticipates the creation of 100 to 200 jobs during construction

“As much as possible, we’re looking to have local contractors, local craft labor,” said spokesperson Cindy Tomlinson. “There are always workers that will be coming in from surrounding areas … but there is additional revenue that comes into the community.”

Even with hotel and travel purchases, local workers spend significantly more of their income within the region compared to out-of-state contractors, who spend most of their earnings within their community of residence, Knapp said.

Brisbois said he is unsure how long solar development in Grant County will continue and, thus, when the increase in economic activity will dwindle.

Unlike fossil fuel plants, which can employ hundreds of workers, ongoing maintenance of solar facilities is left to just a few.

“But we see more projects being proposed,” Brisbois said.