Labor, Social Justice, Job Retraining Experts See Opportunity in Offshore Wind
ATLANTIC CITY – With plans taking shape for a huge offshore wind farm 15 miles from the Atlantic City boardwalk, speakers at an annual conference held at the beach resort focused on the employment opportunities that this and other wind projects could create.
The possibility of large amounts of renewable energy now seems likely for New Jersey, with state officials awarding Danish wind giant Ørsted a license to produce 1,100 megawatts of power – currently the largest wind power project planned in the US.
Construction on the project, known as Ocean Wind, is expected to start in the early 2020s, with power generation starting in 2024. (The company estimates it will generate enough electricity for 500,000 homes.)
"The growth and opportunity that we’re seeing in offshore wind is really tremendous,” said Hillary Bright, the state policy director of the Blue Green Alliance, an organization that brings together some of the larger labor and environmental organizations in the state.
Speaking at the third annual Time for Turbines conference on wind power, held Friday, August 16 at Stockton University’s new Atlantic City campus, Bright highlighted the wind energy industry's potential for providing union jobs, as well as the need to find opportunities for workers in the fossil fuel industry.
Bill Snyder, of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, said leaders and advocates need to hold state officials accountable for the jobs they say will be created.
“I represent the wharf and dockworkers, pile drivers and divers from Trenton to Washington D.C.,” Snyder said. He wants New Jersey union members to be ready for the jobs when the work starts, and says the training for that should start now.
“We already do the training needed to be successful in a marine environment. But because this is a new industry, we haven’t really identified the safety training that’s going to be needed, and the welding certifications,” Snyder said. “We need to nail down what we need for training now, so that when we go out there and work in a year or two, we’re prepared.”
Snyder and others discussed training initiatives and apprenticeship opportunities aimed at getting people ready to work in the field, citing women, minority communities, and veterans. “We’re committed to the actual communities we work in; our members live here," he said. These are good jobs...that last for careers.”
Several speakers underscored the difference between jobs and careers. "We’ve talked a lot about what constitutes a good job in the clean energy economy,” said Anna Fendley, the associate legislative director for United Steelworkers. She described it as work that pays enough to sustain a family, offers benefits, and protects the safety of workers: “Jobs where a worker’s right to organize and collectively bargain is respected," she added, "where workers...have opportunity for ongoing training [with] companies that respect the communities they’re in.”
Part of that equation depends on the supply chain - where the turbines, blades, cables and other elements of this new infrastructure are built . Ørsted and the German company EEW have announced plans to create a factory in Paulsboro - a small Salem County borough on the Delaware Bay - to produce foundation pieces for the offshore windmills.
“That’s where the big economic opportunity is,” Fendley said. “We’re confident that a supply chain could be built in the US. Most of the material can be made here." Though most "Time for Turbines" conference speakers, true to the title, emphasized the upsides of NJ offshore wind, some voices urged pragmatism.
Dr. Frank Felder, the director of the Center for Energy, Economic and Environmental Policy and a research professor at Rutgers Energy Institute, cautions that there are benefits and costs to everything.
He saw estimates of 15,000 new jobs - an average of 652 jobs a year over the estimated 23-year life of the project - as modest, when compared to about 4.4 million people employed in New Jersey. "...For the transition to the clean energy economy to be successful, the public has to believe, it has to know, that it’s based on credible, objective and transparent analysis,” Felder said.
He sees the greatest potential benefits of such projects in health and a cleaner environment. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do offshore wind; I’m just saying the reasons to do offshore wind are primarily environmental,” he said. "That includes cleaner air, which will have economic impacts of its own.
“If residents do not understand the real cost and benefits from the start," Felder added, "the process will end up taking longer and costing more."