Offshore Wind = Onshore Jobs

Offshore Wind = Onshore Jobs

July 25, 2019 23:04
by J. Wylie Donald

Offshore wind. It’s a renewable energy revolution blowing through the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states. A facility is operating off Block Island. The first facility in federal waters (a small demonstration project) is scheduled for operation next year off of Virginia. The Business Network for Offshore Wind (BNOW) continued its conference series yesterday in Washington; this time the subject was:  Offshore Wind = Onshore Jobs. 

Offshore wind has been slow to develop. We blogged the subject in 2010, 2013, 2015. Finally, something may be changing. Federal leases are in place. States are now moving forward with substantial commitments to support the industry. Most recently New Jersey approved a 1,100 MW proposal and New York selected two proposals totaling almost 1,700 MW for contract negotiation. 

What can we say about the conference?  Liz Burdock, President and CEO of BNOW, summed it up as she thanked all the panelists:  “This was the jobs conversation we have been wanting to have for the last five years.”  The praise was well-deserved. The session opened with remarks by Walter Cruikshank, the Acting Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  He noted the 34,000 jobs anticipated in the next five years and the 80,000 jobs predicted by 2030. But he also noted that BOEM was looking to protect jobs in other marine industries like fishing and transportation and sought the “sweet spot” where all could succeed.

Representatives of Siemens Gamesa, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, Global Marine Group and EWE explained their views on the job opportunities in the construction and installation of offshore wind platforms. Blade and foundation manufacturing processes and opportunities were made clear by representatives of MHI Vestas and EEW Group. Think about a process to manufacture and then move a blade 250+ feet long or to roll steel 15mm thick. Offshore wind will not be built in a day.

Trade union representatives for electricians, carpenters and iron workers shared their views in a larger perspective of the renaissance of union jobs which, in contrast to “right to work” jurisdictions, offer training, health care, pensions, tuition assistance and, in the words of Bob Laufenberg of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America, “the building of communities.”  The government side of things was represented too.  We learned about state and federal funding for training with a case study from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and General Dynamics.   

Finally we heard from the regulators concerned with safety. This had been a backdrop throughout the day. The representatives from industry and the unions had both signaled its importance. A safety culture has to be “engrained in the mindset of the technician.”  One issue is which regulator will have primacy. As in most things:  it depends. The Coast Guard representative identified half a dozen maritime disasters that have informed the Coast Guard’s mandate of vessel and waterway safety. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement will manage the safety of personnel. Key will be 30 C.F.R § 585.810, which requires a Safety Management System.  The BSEE speaker described the SMS as “a framework for managing safety risks and opportunities, to prevent work related injury and ill health to workers to provide safe and healthy workplaces.”   Companies active in offshore wind will have to make and implement their plan, analyze its effectiveness, and then revise their plan.  Training will be critical. 

An instructor from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy picked up that ball and explained the Basic Safety Training the Academy was offering, which was derived from the Global Wind Organisation standards developed by the Europeans. But, notwithstanding that the Europeans are far ahead and leading the way in offshore wind with 40,000 jobs credited to their endeavors, the GWO standards are not adopted yet in the United States. 

Which leads to my takeaway from the conference. Offshore wind was likened to the 1849 California Gold Rush, with opportunity materializing out of thin air. All good. But if the regulators can’t get on board behind safety standards and guide industry two things are likely to happen. Something will fall through the cracks and someone will be hurt or worse. And when that happens, there will be a collective pause in offshore wind’s march forward. Neither has to happen.  Regulators can work with industry to develop appropriate standards for safety.

Renewable Energy | Wind Energy | Sustainability

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