One of the primary state agencies that oversees Minnesota’s climate and clean energy programs is expanding its staff by nearly two-thirds, fueled by new state and federal funding opportunities.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Division of Energy Resources, which plays a central role in Minnesota’s clean energy transition, has added 64 positions to its roughly 90 employees at the start of the year. Of those positions, 42 have been filled and 22 are in the hiring process.
The department oversees programs related to energy conservation, solar for schools and colleges, weatherization, energy assistance and other associated areas.
The hiring spree is being paid for with new funding from state and federal legislation. The Legislature created seven new energy-related programs this spring, including rebate efforts, a $100 million state competitiveness fund and a green bank. The Division of Energy Resources will manage the new programs, which are expected to begin next year.
“We anticipate that as various programs are set up, we may need additional staffing to support those efforts,” said Michelle Gransee, a deputy commissioner who oversees the division.
Some of the new hires are already helping bring in additional federal dollars to the state. Since July, the division has secured over hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for utilities and communities under the Inflation Reduction Act and other programs.
“Bringing in hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, requires dedicated staffing,” Gransee said.
Employees will fill out new and existing roles after a department restructuring that added new sections to deal with responsibilities created by lawmakers in the 2023 session, the most productive for energy legislation in Minnesota history. Other hires will assist in funding that has come through the Inflation Reduction Act and other federal laws.
The surge in new employees is the largest Gransee has seen in her 14-year Commerce career. The only comparable period came in 2009 when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded money for clean energy, but that lasted just two years.
The division has been hiring program developers, economists, lawyers, engineers, building science specialists, and grants and contracts experts, to name a few.
“We’re bringing in a diversity of talent and experience, which we were thrilled to see,” Gransee said.
The division has been receiving applications from employees of other state agencies, as well as recent University of Minnesota graduates, and people with backgrounds in nonprofits, utilities, and think tanks. The state has used LinkedIn and other regional and national experts to cast a net beyond Minnesota. Many applicants, she said, have been attracted to working at Commerce because they can have a direct impact on mitigating climate change in the state.
Among the recent higher profile hires have been Pete Klein, former vice president of finance at the St. Paul Port Authority, who planned to retire before being offered the opportunity to lead the department’s Minnesota Climate Innovation Finance Authority. With a budget of $45 million, the climate innovation authority, also known as a green bank, will develop financing tools to leverage private investment.
The department also recently hired John Michael-Cross, formerly a project manager with the Washington, D.C.-based Environment and Energy Study Institute, to run the state’s community solar program. In 2023, the Legislature moved management of the program from Xcel Energy to the state division.
Gransee said not all new employees will be permanent. Several will work under contract and not become employees.
“The tradition of coming into the state and working for the next 40 years for it isn’t for everybody,” she said. “For some, it’s exciting to come into a position that’s two or three years long, have a great impact, and then see what’s next.”
The Division of Energy Resources has recently expanded with more than 30 new programs that will be managed by the following offices:
- The Office of Energy Affordability combines weatherization assistance and energy assistance programs.
- The Office of Energy Development includes state energy programs, environmental review, contracting, technical assistance and new units to deploy clean energy programs and pursue additional federal dollars. Since July, this unit has successfully secured over $620 million in new funding for Minnesota utilities and communities.
- The Office of Regulatory Affairs will continue to conduct regulatory planning and analysis and advocate on behalf of the public interest in front of the Public Utilities Commission and manage the state’s Energy Conservation Optimization Program (formerly the Conservation Improvement Program).
- The Office of Energy Reliability and Security will help ensure the state has a safe and dependable transmission system.
“Each of those offices has some growth in them,” she said. “Some are entire units; others will have just one additional person coming into a space for a specific project or program.”
Gregg Mast, executive director of the nonprofit Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said the additional employees will be needed to have “rapid rollout of the new programs so we can have swift implementation.” The advocacy group hopes Commerce’s new staff members will expand private sector clean energy jobs in Minnesota.
Since the legislative session ended, Gransee said agency staff have been occupied with creating new and updating existing programs.
“We’re thrilled by the expansion,” she said. “We could have twice as many staff and still keep everybody busy.”