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Report: Local hiring for solar farms keeps economic benefits in state

Construction unions are touting the results of a report suggesting that building solar farms with a local workforce generates more than twice as much economic benefits in Wisconsin as using out-of-state labor.

The report, produced by Forward Analytics, estimates that a 150-megawatt solar farm built in rural Wisconsin with local labor would generate $11.8 million in economic activity — thanks mostly to local purchases workers make with the estimated $21.7 million in wages they would earn on such a project. The same job done with out-of-state labor would meanwhile produce only $4.6 million in economic activity for Wisconsin, according to the report.

The report was commissioned by Wisconsin Infrastructure Investment Now, a lobbying group backed by contractors and labor unions. The study comes as many solar projects get under development in Wisconsin. Forward Analytics estimates that 19 solar farms underway in the state would produce nearly 2.5 gigawatts of power and produce nearly $200 million in economic benefits if they are built with local labor — a figure that could fall by more than 50% if they were built by out-of-state contractors and workers. The report estimates it will take about 4,000 workers for each of the solar farms under development in Wisconsin.

“The 19 solar farms planned for Wisconsin will cost in excess of $2.6 billion. This is a much-needed capital investment as aging electric generation plants are retired, but it is Wisconsin residents that will pay for the projects through their utility bills,” said Robb Kahl, executive director of WIIN, in a statement. “Since Wisconsin is paying for the new infrastructure, it should be Wisconsin contractors and workers that build it.”

The report notes that most materials used in large solar farms aren’t produced locally, meaning most of the economic benefit from such a project comes from workers spending their wages locally. To come up with its estimate for how much in wages a 150 megawatt solar project would produce, the study assumes workers will be paid Davis-Bacon prevailing wages.

Forward Analytics estimates that a solar farm of that size would require about 228 workers — a figure based on employment estimates on some solar farms under construction in Wisconsin. The report notes that the 150-megawatt Onion River project in Sheboygan would employ about 200 workers, whereas the 200-megawatt Grant County Solar project would require between 250 and 350 workers.

Andrew Disch, political director for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the report shows it’s unclear whether Wisconsin’s boom in solar development will create middle-class jobs.

“Businesses coming to Wisconsin to develop solar energy need to invest in family supporting wages and benefits to workers,” Disch said in a statement. “We hope solar developers see the value of building local.”

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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