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Growing green jobs: Iron Range solar energy facility breaks ground on expansion

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MOUNTAIN IRON, MN -- The demand for clean energy is growing in the United States and now an Iron Range town is shaping up to be a leader in solar energy manufacturing.

On Thursday, in the middle of mining country, a $21 million groundbreaking expansion project took off.

"Welcome to Mountain Iron - a national leader in green energy," said St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Jugovich.

Once known as Silicon Energy, the plant has been owned by Heliene since 2017.

But now, new investment is putting the Mountain Iron facility on the map.

"Well, it's big growth. It's almost a 100 percent growth," said Martin Pochtaruk, President and CEO at Heliene.

The upgrade includes a 400-megawatt expansion, advanced automation technology, and 60 new jobs.

"We just want to be able to provide a product made in America for a market that is growing extremely fast," said Pochtaruk. "Electrification is already ongoing in many aspects of our life and our product is the engine to such electrification."

An engine that's diversifying an area rich in mining, something IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips said isn't always easy to do.

"Getting high-tech manufacturing right in the shadow of one of our taconite operations, which are the highest-paying blue-collar jobs in the country, that's a challenge. They have met that challenge here and this is why we like this company."

Minnesota State Senator Dave Tomassoni has been a driving force behind the project from the start.

"Not only is it a diversification of the economy and the Iron Range, it's a big deal in the future of America as far as energy needs are concerned. The fact that we would have the only solar panel manufacturing plant in the upper Midwest, that's pretty special."

Tomassoni's push to get the project done led to a big moment for the longtime senator.

Pochtaruk announced Heliene is naming the Iron Range facility after Tomassoni.

"There are probably ten people in the room they could have named that after, so I'm just humbled and very honored. The realization that it's actually going to happen is really something that is very, very special."

Funding for the project came from a collaboration of state and county contributions.

Construction is set to begin this month with manufacturing getting underway in June.

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Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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