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Inside Clean Energy: Who’s Ahead in the Race for Offshore Wind Jobs in the US?

By Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, October 28, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

States and metropolitan areas are competing to become hubs of land-based jobs for offshore wind.

Here is how Siemens Gamesa’s announcement fits into the national picture:

  • New Jersey has a head start in securing offshore wind jobs, with announcements of several onshore projects. The largest was in December, when Ørsted of Denmark and EEW of Germany said they would open a factory to build the steel foundations of turbines—called monopiles—that would provide up to 500 jobs. The plant would open in 2023 and be located at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal on the New Jersey side of the Philadelphia metro area.
  • New York has several projects in the works, in conjunction with companies that serve the offshore wind industry. Among them is a plan announced in August by Marmen of Canada, Welcon of Denmark and Smulders of Belgium to build a plant that would make steel towers for offshore wind turbines and employ up to 350 people. The plant would open in 2023 at the Port of Albany on the Hudson River.
  • Other states, including several in New England, are working to develop offshore wind hubs in port cities, but they haven’t announced corporate jobs commitments as large as those of New Jersey, New York and Virginia, according to project information shared by the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a trade group.

Up to 260 of the jobs in Virginia announced by Siemens Gamesa would be in a blade finishing plant, “where cast blades go through post-treatment, painting and assembly processes readying the blades for installation,” said Kaile Gurney, a Siemens Gamesa spokeswoman.

The blades will be produced somewhere else and then shipped to Virginia for finishing. Siemens Gamesa didn’t say which plant would be making the blades. The company manufactures offshore wind turbine blades at factories in Denmark and the United Kingdom, among other locations. A plant in Fort Madison, Iowa, makes blades for onshore wind turbines.

In addition, Siemens Gamesa said it will hire about 50 people for operation and maintenance of the offshore wind farm. That, plus the finishing plant, adds up to 310 jobs in Portsmouth and the surrounding region.

My first reaction upon watching a broadcast of Monday’s news conference was that local, state and federal officials were doing a lot of back-patting about a relatively small number of jobs. The speakers included Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

But close observers of the offshore wind industry told me that the significance wasn’t the number of jobs but the fact that a major global player in offshore wind was putting down roots in Virginia. Siemens Gamesa was the global leader in offshore wind last year and it ranked fifth in the world in combined onshore and offshore wind power capacity installed, according to BloombergNEF.

“The announcement is significant because it represents a win for Virginia in the scramble between northeast states to secure as much of the offshore wind supply chain as possible,” said Chelsea Jean-Michel, an analyst focusing on the U.S. wind industry for BloombergNEF.

Siemens Gamesa also may be helping itself to secure future business, as the plant is well-positioned to supply turbines for other projects in Virginia and nearby states, she said.

Eileen Woll, offshore energy program director for the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, used a retail analogy to explain why the factory is a big deal.

“This is like Neiman Marcus coming to the shopping mall,” she said. “It’s the anchor.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

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