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Wind Energy Provides Opportunity For Veterans

Created: 08/08/2013 10:55 PM KSTP.com

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Recently there's been a renewed effort to get our men and women of the armed forces into quality jobs.

And now one local lawmaker is hoping to solve two problems at the same time.

As a veteran himself, democrat representative Tim Walz, wants to get service members back to work while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. 

And as the state sets a lofty goal for higher renewable energy, Rep. Walz hopes it'll be veterans behind the expansion.

“This is smart economics, it's smart environmentally, it's smart for job creation and we should be touting that," Rep. Walz said.

During a visit to NextEra Energy wind farm in Grand Meadow on Thursday, Rep. Walz emphasized job creation as a top priority.

And with construction on the new Pleasant Valley wind farm in Austin set to begin next year, officials expect an abundance of new quality jobs.

“You see a benefit in jobs in two ways,” said Craig Oscarson, Mower County coordinator. “You see a benefit in the construction jobs, and then you also see a benefit in permanent jobs in maintenance."

But lawmakers want to see those jobs going to one group in particular.

“Over the last several years we saw unacceptably high amounts of unemployment amongst our returning veterans,” Rep. Walz said.

Recent projections show unemployment among veterans is nearly twice the national average, but there are some bright spots.

On Thursday, Rep. Walz presented a special certificate to NextEra, where nearly 13 percent of their wind energy staff are veterans.

NextEra is trying to bring even more veterans into the area as they actively recruit at military bases to try and fill vacancies with as many qualified service members as possible.

“The real heroes in this, the ones hiring our heroes when they come back, are businesses like NextEra that are willing to go out and hire these folks, not just cause it is the right thing to do, they're getting great employees,” Rep. Walz said. “What we want to do is highlight those folks who have made that effort, that have got it done."

And with more troops returning every day, and a growing demand for clean energy, officials see new job opportunities for years to come.

“This is the trained workforce we're talking about. These are good jobs that you want to keep in Mower County,” Rep. Walz said. “You can definitely see the future in this, so I hope we continue to build them."