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A Lifeline for a Coal Plant Gives Hope to a North Dakota Town. Others See It as a Boondoggle

By Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, July 17, 2021

The politics and economics of the clean energy transition are playing out in a place desperate to retain fossil fuel jobs.

In a town with fewer than 1,000 people, losing an employer tied to about 700 jobs is a kind of death, and that’s what Underwood, North Dakota, was facing until two weeks ago.

Great River Energy, the owner of the giant Coal Creek Station power plant south of the city, said last year that it was going to close the plant in 2022 following years of financial losses. Local and state leaders vowed to find a way to keep it open.

Now those leaders are celebrating. On June 30, after months of rumors, Rainbow Energy Marketing revealed that it had agreed to buy the plant, with plans to retrofit it using carbon capture systems and also help to develop a wind farm. The company, based in Bismarck, North Dakota, said the project might help to write a playbook for how to save other coal-fired power plants.

But what feels like a godsend to people in Underwood looks like a financial and environmental fiasco to energy analysts and clean energy advocates, who view the plan to use carbon capture technology to keep the plant running as an expensive distraction from the urgent need to embrace cleaner options to help address climate change. The differing views underscore the challenge of building a consensus on clean energy in a place where many people blame wind and solar power for killing coal jobs.

“For the people I deal with, it was sort of like a weight was lifted,” said Steve Cottingham of Underwood, chairman of the McLean County Board of Commissioners, about the announcement of the sale.

Coal Creek Station is the largest power plant in North Dakota, with capacity of about 1,150 megawatts. The plant has about 240 employees and the Falkirk Mine has about 450 employees. The mine, located a few miles from the plant, sells nearly all of its output to the plant.

Underwood is a city with no stop lights. An antique store is called The Coal Bin. The economy is built on agriculture and coal.

‘It’s virtually impossible’: Transition to renewables at risk as oil and gas workers struggle to access green jobs

By Daisy Dunne - The Independent., June 22, 2021

The UK’s transition away from fossil fuels to renewable power could be put at risk by barriers facing oil and gas workers looking to move into green jobs, campaigners say.

A survey of 600 offshore workers found that those looking to move from the fossil fuel industry into green jobs in renewable power currently face costly training fees, discouraging them from making the transition.

Workers responding to the poll said they are routinely forced to pay out thousands of pounds of their own cash for training courses when moving between one employer and another in the offshore sector, some of which they have already paid to take part in for their current positions.

One 42-year-old who has worked in the oil and gas sector for 20 years said the cost of training could be putting workers off trying to move into green jobs.

“People really need help to make the transition because it’s just virtually impossible to do it yourself with the way things are at the moment,” he told The Independent. None of the oil and gas workers interviewed wanted to provide their names, for fear of losing work.

He added he was hoping to see more opportunities in renewable power as the country transitions away from using fossil fuels.

“For me, it’s about moving forward in my career and about moving forward for the environment at the same time. I’ve got two young children and I can see the changes that are happening to the climate, it’s obvious to me.”

One 43-year-old who has worked in the sector for 24 years said that he would “love” to see more opportunities in renewable energy.

“I was one of the people living in a bubble thinking ‘that might not be quite right’ when it came to climate change. But it’s really my kids that brought it home to me,” he told The Independent.

Clean energy jobs as a transition destination

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, June 15, 2021

Released on June 3, Responding to Automation: Building a Cleaner Future is a new analysis by the Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre. It investigates the potential for clean energy jobs as a career transition destination for workers at high risk of losing their jobs because of automation. The clean energy occupations were identified from three areas: clean energy production, energy efficiency , and environmental management and the “rapid growth” jobs identified range from wind turbine technicians and power-line installers to industrial engineers, sheet metal workers, and geospatial information scientists. Based on interviews with clean economy experts, as well as the interview responses from over five hundred workers across Canada, the analysis identifies the structural barriers holding employers and workers back from transition:

  • Lack of consistent financial support for workers to reskill
  • Employer hesitancy to hire inexperienced workers
  • Current demand for relevant occupations which makes change less attractive
  • Lack of awareness around potential transition opportunities
  • Personal relocation barriers, such as high living costs in new cities, and family commitments.

None of the recommended actions to overcome the barriers include a role for unions, with the burden for action falling largely on the individual employee. Only summary information is presented as a web document, but this research is part of a larger focus on automation, so it can be hoped that a fuller report will be published – if so, the partner group, Future Skills, maintains a Research website where it will likely be available.

Other news about renewable energy jobs:

“Renewable Energy Boom Unleashes a War Over Talent for Green Jobs” appeared in Bloomberg Green News (June 8), describing shortages of skilled workers in renewable energy, mainly in the U.S.. It also summarizes a U.K. report which forecasts a large need for workers in the U.K. offshore industry, which is expected to be met by people transferring from the oil and gas sector.

A report by the Global Wind Energy Council forecasts a growth of 3.3 million wind jobs worldwide by 2025, and suggests that offshore wind energy jobs could offer a natural transition for workers dislocated from offshore oil and gas and marine engineering workers. According to the analysis, in 2020, there were approximately 550,000 wind energy workers in China, 260,00 in Brazil, 115,000 in the US and 63,000 in India. A related report, The Global Wind Workforce Outlook 2021-2025 forecasts a large training gap: the global wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to construct, install, operate and maintain the world’s growing onshore and offshore wind fleet. That report is available for download here (registration required), and is summarized in this press release.

And forthcoming: Clean Energy Canada will release its research on the clean energy labour market in Canada on June 17. Their last jobs report, The Fast Lane: Tracking the Energy Revolution, was released in 2019.

Is clean energy ready for Biden's union crusade?

By David Ferris - E&E News, March 9, 2021

One evening in September 2018, Lucas Franco parked on the shoulder of a dirt road in the Minnesota cornfields. He examined the passing cars, especially their license plates.

The trucks and SUVs were rolling off the construction site of a wind farm called Stoneray. Upon spying each plate, Franco noted its origin state and entered it into a spreadsheet on his laptop. Utah, Florida, South Carolina, Texas.

Franco was not a police officer or a private investigator, but a Ph.D. candidate in political science trying to solve a mystery. His employer, the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of the Laborers' International Union of North America, wanted to know where these workers were coming from.

For several years, wind farms like Stoneray had been rising in southern Minnesota, with each energy project promising to create hundreds of jobs. But developers rarely called the Laborers' Local 563 union hall in Minneapolis. Instead, the Laborers' and the state's other construction unions suspected that wind companies were importing workers from other states and denying the income to Minnesotans.

"We kept asking questions" of the developers about their workforce, said Kevin Pranis, 49, the local's marketing manager and Franco's boss. "But they would just fob us off."

The data on Franco's laptop changed that. It would, in fact, form the basis of the most successful labor actions in the short history of American renewable energy.

This Minnesota episode is relevant now because of the union sympathies of the new U.S. president, Joe Biden. Biden launched his campaign two years ago in a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh. Last week, he posted a video implicitly cheering on a unionization effort at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in Alabama, which is being closely watched to see whether a new, union-loving president could revive a labor movement long in decline.

Biden has made no secret of his intention to bring this rare brand of presidential labor activism to clean energy...

Read the rest here.

Texas: grids, blackouts, and green new deals

By Jonathan Neale - The Ecologist, February 17, 2021

The failure of the electricity grid in Texas, USA, and the rolling blackouts in the Midwest, are one more consequence of climate breakdown.

The root problem is that the Arctic is growing warmer. As it does so, paradoxically, there is less of a barrier preventing very cold weather in the far north from moving south. This extremely cold weather then blankets cities and downs where people live. 

Download Fight the Fire for free now.

The electricity grid in Texas simply cannot supply enough power for all the extra demands on heating. This is a problem what will grow much worse, and not just in Texas.

Complexity

But Fox News and the Governor of Texas are blaming the failure of the grid on the Green New Deal and renewable energy. That’s silly.

There is no Green New Deal in Texas. There are some wind turbines, that have apparently frozen. But the wind turbines in Canada and Antarctica have not frozen.

This is a problem caused by fossil fuels and privatized energy, not wind trubines.

But environmentalists have to be careful here, and we have to be up to speed on the full complexity of what a Green New Deal will mean for electricity grids.

That’s why The Ecologist is posting here the chapter on supergrids from my new book, Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs.

Power

In what follows, I explain the difficulties in integrating 100 percent renewable energy into the grid, and how it can be done. I also show why that will be impossible if renewable energy and electricity supply are owned by private corporations.

The chapter is about supergrids around the world, but many of the examples come from the United States.

A rewired world does not mean that all energy will come from renewables. But it does mean that most energy will come from electricity, and all that electricity will come from renewables.

That will not be an easy thing to construct. We will need new national and international supergrids to integrate all these new kinds of power into new electrical supply systems. These will be qualitatively new undertakings.

The challenge of mixing together power from renewable energy is different in kind from mixing together energy from fossil fuels – and far more complex.

With 10-Point Declaration, Global Coalition of Top Energy Experts Says: '100% Renewables Is Possible'

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, February 9, 2021

Setting out to rebut defeatist and cynical claims that transitioning the entire global energy system to 100% renewables by 2035 is infeasible, a group of dozens of leading scientists from around the world unveiled a joint declaration Tuesday arguing that such a transformation of the fossil fuel-dependent status quo is not only necessary to avert climate disaster but eminently achievable.

What's required, argue the 46 signatories of the new 10-point declaration (pdf), is sufficient political will, international coordination, and concrete action on a massive scale to institute a total "re-design of the global energy system."

"We have lost too much time in our efforts to address global warming and the seven million air pollution deaths that occur each year, by not focusing enough on useful solutions," said Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

"Fortunately, low-cost 100% clean, renewable energy solutions do exist to solve these problems, as found by over a dozen independent research groups," added Jacobson, one of the seven original signers of the declaration. "The solutions will not only save consumers money, but also create jobs and provide energy and more international security, while substantially reducing air pollution and climate damage from energy. Policymakers around the world are strongly urged to ensure we implement these solutions over the next 10-15 years."

Response to Greg Butler's critique of the Green New Deal and the Rank-and-File Strategy

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2021

As stated in our standard disclaimer (at the end of this editorial), the opinions expressed in this text are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of the IWW or the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. This piece includes very strongly worded opinions, therefore the author deemed it best to emphasize that point.

There are certainly plenty of constructive, comradely criticisms of the Green New Deal, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Kim Moody's "Rank-and-File Strategy", The North American Building Trades Unions, and Jacobin (none of which are either mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, Greg Butler's The Green New Deal and the "Rank-and-File Strategy", published on December 17, 2020, by Organizing Work, is not a good example. In fact, Butler's piece is little more than a sectarian swipe at a number of targets which are only indirectly related to each other, and worse still, it's full of inaccuracies and unfounded claims that have no evidence to support them.

How “clean” are clean energy and electric vehicles?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 19, 2021

Several articles and reports published recently have re-visited the question: how “clean” is “clean energy”? Here is a selection, beginning in October 2020 with a multi-part series titled Recycling Clean Energy Technologies , from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It includes: “Wind Turbine blades don’t have to end up in landfill”; “Cracking the code on recycling energy storage batteries“; and “Solar Panel Recycling: Let’s Make It Happen” .

The glaring problem with Canada’s solar sector and how to fix it” (National Observer, Nov. 2020) states that “While solar is heralded as a clean, green source of renewable energy, this is only true if the panels are manufactured sustainably and can be recycled and kept out of landfills.” Yet right now, Canada has no capacity to recycle the 350 tonnes of solar pv waste produced in 2016 alone, let alone the 650,000 tonnes Canada is expected to produce by 2050. The author points the finger of responsibility at Canadian provinces and territories, which are responsible for waste management and extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations. A description of solar recycling and waste management systems in Europe and the U.S. points to better practices.

No ‘green halo’ for renewables: First Solar, Veolia, others tackle wind and solar environmental impacts” appeared in Utility Drive (Dec. 14) as a “long read” discussion of progress to uphold environmental and health and safety standards in both the production and disposal of solar panels and wind turbine blades. The article points to examples of industry standards and third-party certification of consumer goods, such as The Green Electronics Council (GEC) and NSF International. The article also quotes experts such as University of California professor Dustin Mulvaney, author of Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice (2019) and numerous other articles which have tracked the environmental impact, and labour standards, of the solar energy industry.

Regarding the recycling of wind turbine blades: A press release on December 8 2020 describes a new agreement between GE Renewable Energy and Veolia, whereby Veolia will recycle blades removed from its U.S.-based onshore wind turbines by shredding them at a processing facility in Missouri, so that they can be used as a replacement for coal, sand and clay in cement manufacturing. A broader article appeared in Grist, “Today’s wind turbine blades could become tomorrow’s bridges” (Jan. 8 2021) which notes the GE- Veoli initiative and describes other emerging and creative ways to deal with blade waste, such as the Re-Wind project. Re-Wind is a partnership involving universities in the U.S., Ireland, and Northern Ireland who are engineering ways to repurpose the blades for electrical transmission towers, bridges, and more. The article also quotes a senior wind technology engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. who is experimenting with production materials to find more recyclable materials from which to build wind turbine blades in the first place. He states: “Today, recyclability is something that is near the top of the list of concerns” for wind energy companies and blade manufacturers alike …. All of these companies are saying, ‘We need to change what we’re doing, number one because it’s the right thing to do, number two because regulations might be coming down the road. Number three, because we’re a green industry and we want to remain a green industry.’”

These are concerns also top of mind regarding the electric vehicle industry, where both production and recycling of batteries can be detrimental to the planet. The Battery Paradox: How the electric vehicle boom is draining communities and the planet is a December 2020 report by the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). It reviews the social and environmental impacts of the whole battery value chain, (mining, production, and recycling) and the mining of key minerals used in Lithium-ion batteries (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese). The report concludes that standardization of battery cells, modules and packs would increase recycling rates and efficiency, but ultimately, “To relieve the pressure on the planet, …. any energy transition strategy should prioritize reducing demand for batteries and cars… Strategies proposed include ride-sharing, car-sharing and smaller vehicles.”

Ørsted and U.S. Building Trades reach a national agreement for workforce planning in Offshore Wind

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 19, 2020

A November 18  press release from the North America Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Ørsted Offshore North America  announces a “Landmark MOU for U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Transition” , which “represents a transformative moment for organized labor and the clean energy industry. This framework sets a model for labor-management cooperation and workforce development in the budding offshore wind industry.”

According to the NABTU  press release, “The partnership will create a national agreement designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the 14 U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.”    The newly-announced MOU is based on the model of an agreement developed by the Rhode Island Building Trades for the Block Island Wind Farm project – the first offshore wind installation in the U.S. which came online in December 2016, and is now operated by Ørsted .

No text of the new agreement is available yet, but the press release specifies:

“As part of this national framework, Ørsted, along with their partners, will work together with the building trades’ unions to identify the skills necessary to accelerate an offshore wind construction workforce. The groups will match those needs against the available workforce, timelines, scopes of work, and certification requirements to fulfill Ørsted’s pipeline of projects down the East Coast, creating expansive job opportunities in a brand-new American industry for years to come and raising economics for a just transition in the renewable sector…..Ørsted and NABTU, along with their affiliates and state and local councils, have agreed to work together on long-term strategic plans for the balanced and sustainable development of Ørsted’s offshore wind projects.”

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and Ørsted Sign Landmark MOU for U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Transition

By Lauren Burm - Ørsted Offshore North America and Betsy Barrett - North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), November 18, 2020

Ørsted, the global leader in offshore wind development, announced today a landmark initiative with North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), the labor organization representing more than 3 million skilled craft professionals. The partnership will create a national agreement designed to transition U.S. union construction workers into the offshore wind industry in collaboration with the leadership of the 14 U.S. NABTU affiliates and the AFL-CIO.

Ørsted’s agreement with NABTU represents a transformative moment for organized labor and the clean energy industry. This framework sets a model for labor-management cooperation and workforce development in the budding offshore wind industry. There are currently 15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development in the U.S. According to a report released by the American Wind Energy Association, if fully built, these leases would support up to 30 GW of offshore wind capacity – representing an estimated 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output within the next decade.

“Today’s agreement expands career pathways of opportunities for our members to flourish in this transition,” said Sean McGarvey, President of NABTU. “Our highly trained men and women professionals have the best craft skills in the world, and now will gain new experience in deep-water ocean work. Our agreement is based on a successful model developed by the Rhode Island Building Trades for the Block Island Wind Farm project. We commend Ørsted for coming to the table to work in partnership with us and our membership, and we also thank AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler for her help and support throughout the process.”

Ørsted has the largest footprint of any offshore wind developer operating in U.S. waters, having been awarded 2.9GW of power contracts up and down the Eastern seaboard from Rhode Island to Maryland. This announcement underscores the company’s desire to solidify offshore wind’s position as an incubator for union green-collar job creation and innovation.

“Ørsted believes the best workers are always the best-trained workers, and we are proud to have earned a strong record of working with skilled union labor to build the country’s first offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm, where more than 300 union workers were employed,” said David Hardy, CEO of Ørsted Offshore North America. “We appreciate NABTU’s cooperation and the collaborative approach our union partners have brought to this endeavor and look forward to learning from and working with them on this groundbreaking partnership.”

As part of this national framework, Ørsted, along with their partners, will work together with the building trades’ unions to identify the skills necessary to accelerate an offshore wind construction workforce. The groups will match those needs against the available workforce, timelines, scopes of work, and certification requirements to fulfill Ørsted’s pipeline of projects down the East Coast, creating expansive job opportunities in a brand-new American industry for years to come and raising economics for a just transition in the renewable sector.

Ørsted and NABTU, along with their affiliates and state and local councils, have agreed to work together on long-term strategic plans for the balanced and sustainable development of Ørsted’s offshore wind projects. This planning effort will help ensure that site and state-specific programming will be ready when federal permits are obtained, and construction begins.

These are the green jobs of the future, and this framework demonstrates that just transition can be accomplished through prioritization of workforce training and middle-class labor standards with family-sustaining wages, healthcare benefits, and pension security. Ørsted remains fully committed to coordinating with local unions and NABTU councils to create a consistent workforce pipeline and cohesive network to lead an effective just transition into the vast and complex nature of offshore wind development in the United States.

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