The Race To 52%: Little Old NJ Leaps Into US Offshore Wind Industry Lead

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File this one under A, for All’s well that ends well. Former New Jersey Governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate Chris Christie took a lot of heat for slow-walking the Garden State’s offshore wind industry during the Obama administration, but all that shifting around in the doldrums is just so much water under the bridge now. New Jersey is set to be a centerpiece of President Biden’s plans for slashing carbon emissions by up to 52% in by 2030, which is just around the corner. Shorter version: jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

Revenge Of The Monopile

New Jersey shook off the dust of the Christie administration in 2018, when current Governor Phil Murphy took office. Climate-wise, Murphy did not let the grass grow under his feet. Last summer he announced plans to establish a national-scale wind manufacturing hub called the New Jersey Wind Port, at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

The new Wind Port will take full advantage of New Jersey’s easy access to a major inland waterway (the Delaware River),  an ocean (the Atlantic Ocean) and Interstate highways (too many to count).

That’s a pretty ambitious plan, considering that the COVID-19 crisis was well under way last summer. Further complicating the offshore wind messaging was former President Trump, whose distaste for wind turbines was on full display during the 2020 election cycle.

Nevertheless, Trump lost the election, and by last December the first leg of the Wind Port was announced, in the form of the largest monopile facility to be built in the US. The project is under the umbrella of Germany’s EEW Group and the global offshore wind leader Ørsted.

NJ Offshore Wind Industry: How Do You Like Me Now?

Anybody who wants to get their hands on some of those monopiles better get in line. Ørsted has dibs on the first batch through its Ocean Wind joint venture with the New Jersey utility PSEG.

Earlier this week Ocean Wind announced that ground has broken on the new monopile facility, and boy howdy was it pleased with itself.

“Once complete, the state-of-the-art facility will manufacture monopiles to supply the 1,100 MW Ocean Wind farm off the coast of southern New Jersey,” Ocean Wind said, just to make sure everybody understands they better not cut the line.

Taking some of the sting off, Ocean Wind emphasized that the facility “will serve the rapidly progressing U.S. offshore wind industry for years to come.”

Ørsted Offshore North America CEO David Hardy also turned the focus to the US offshore wind industry.

“This is an important step for our Ocean Wind project and the State of New Jersey,” he said. “We’ve been able to adhere to our commitment to the state of New Jersey, and in the process are helping to make the State the quintessential supply chain hub of the American offshore wind industry.”

US Offshore Wind Industry & Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

As for who’s gonna do all the work, that’s a good question. As the US economy begins to ramp up, businesses in some sectors are starved for workers. To the extent that failure to offer an attractive salary and benefits package is partly to blame, the New Jersey Wind Port has an answer for that: union labor.

“Construction of the facility will be completed under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the South Jersey Building Trades Council, ensuring that jobs created during the construction phase will be filled by local New Jersey union tradesmen and women who will use the highest level of industry standards,” Ocean Wind explained.

For those of you new to the PLA area, that’s an obligation between project developers and workers intended to ensure that major public works projects keep to their timeline. On the minus side for worker rights, strikes and other work stoppages are prohibited. On the plus side, developers have to adhere to rules for wages, work hours, and union labor.

EEW has more than 250 jobs to fill for construction, and so far it has contracts with more than 30 New Jersey companies for design, permitting, site prep and concrete work.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, for one, anticipates a reawakening of the union movement. In a press release last fall, IBEW proclaimed that “The Energy Future Will Be Union-Built,” positioning the wind port as the ‘Houston of Offshore Wind.'”

“Hundreds of IBEW members could be working as early as next spring on construction of the New Jersey Wind Port, a massive project that has union leaders hopeful about the potential for decades of long-term renewable energy jobs for members of the IBEW and other union trades,” IBEW said.

Offshore Wind Jobs, Good Pay, & The Just Transition

IBEW took the opportunity to throw some shade at former Governor Christie, noting that the union has been trying to help kickstart the New Jersey wind industry for the past 10 or 15 years. Things only got going when Governor Murphy took office and “jumpstarted the talks.”

IBEW also notes that its members already have experience in offshore wind, having participated in the construction of the Rhode Island’s Block Island wind farm, the nation’s first oceangoing wind turbine array.

That brings up the just transition angle. After all, electricity is electricity. Early on, IBEW saw opportunities for its members in the clean energy transition. Now that renewables are aggressively pushing other energy sources aside, it’s sink or swim for the unions. IBEW points out that the union workforce at the Wind Port can draw partly on union members at work in the adjacent Hope Creek nuclear power plant, which is slated for decommissioning.

Cornell University’s Lara Skinner, executive director of The Worker Institute at the ILR School (formerly the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations), is also a member of the Just Transition Working Group in support of the Empire State’s climate goals. Earlier this year she drew an optimistic picture of the nation’s ability to grow a vigorous wind industry workforce, especially in the offshore area. All it takes is money.

“Record numbers of Americans are also reporting that they don’t have enough money to put food on the table, pay rent and mortgages, or cover other household expenses,” Skinner wrote, leading into the idea that good pay will attract good workers:

“Make offshore wind jobs good jobs. The best way to maximize the job creation and economic development impact of the offshore wind industry is by creating high-quality, family-sustaining, and community-supporting union jobs. A host of studies make clear that to combat inequality, we must strengthen the labor movement and create high-quality jobs with good wages and benefits. Investment in the clean energy economy and offshore wind should reverse inequality, not exacerbate it by creating low-quality jobs.”

Clean Power & Social Justice: Everybody Wins

Speaking of inequality, Skinner digs into economic inequality from the perspective of populations that have been largely excluded from apprenticeship programs leading to union work:

“To ensure that historically disadvantaged communities have expanded access to high-quality training programs, including paid, on-the-job training, states can require that at least 15% of work-hours on an offshore wind project are performed by government-registered apprentices,” she wrote, emphasizing that “States can adopt hiring mandates for women, people of color, formerly incarcerated individuals, people with disabilities, and local communities, and provide funding to local community groups to help recruit targeted communities to these training programs.”

“This is an excellent way to ensure local communities are trained and hired for offshore wind projects and are brought into a pipeline for career advancement,” she concluded.

As IBEW notes, the social justice angle is also at work in the Wind Port project. Lest anyone get any ideas about exploiting workers in order to foment race-based animus, IBEW indicates that expanding the union workforce is win for all union workers.

IBEW is on a mission to show Ørsted and other overseas developers that it is cheaper, easier, and better, and more profitable to get their wind turbine manufacturing done in the US rather than making parts overseas and shipping them here. They see the 853-foot turbine towers to be built at the Wind Port as just the tip of the offshore wind iceberg.

That aforementioned IBEW press release emphasizes that a robust US wind manufacturing industry would “bring millions of investment dollars across the state and create high-quality manufacturing and construction jobs for IBEW members.” In addition to manufacturing jobs, there are “potentially hundreds more electrical jobs that could come out of work in the switching yards where power from the turbines would come ashore.”

While all this is going on in the electricity sector, check out the coal mining sector. Former President Trump sailed into office in 2016 on a promise to save coal jobs, quickly fell flat on his face (natural gas, much?), and sailed right back out again in 2020.

Now the United Mine Workers of America is ready to transition its workers into new energy jobs, and it appears to be more than willing to expose the Trump fraud.

“The pain hasn’t let up. Coal employment stayed relatively flat from 2016-2109, but coal- fired power plants were still closing at an accelerating pace. A promised rebound in coal production and employment never occurred,” UMWA wrote in a preamble to its newly introduced plan for restoring good paying union jobs, coal or no coal.

According to the latest report from AP, UMWA is working on the Biden administration to get a bigger piece of the President’s new jobs and climate action plan for its workers, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: GE’s 13-megawatt Haliade X wind turbine is the star of the New Jersey Wind Port show (courtesy of GE Renewable Energy).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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