Will the offshore wind industry solve the compensation and environmental issues?

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By Miriam Wasser |
WBUR
Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Copyright 2021 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

Offshore wind is poised to become a major new industry in the United States. There are efforts to ensure that it creates a lot of well-paying union jobs.

Transcription

IN MARTINEZ, HTE:

President Biden likes to say that tackling climate change is about creating well-paying union jobs in addition to righting environmental injustices. There is now a push to do both as the new offshore wind industry takes shape.

Miriam Wasser of the WBUR member station in Boston reports.

MIRIAM WASSER, BYLINE: Billy Vietze stands at the bottom of a large ladder inside the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The 35-year-old ironworker from Boston is one of two dozen union workers who have come here to get certified for work in the construction of the country’s first major offshore wind project, Vineyard Wind.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 1: The first thing we’re going to do is familiarize ourselves with the scales.

WASSER: The men, many of whom have scruffy beards and lots of tattoos, wear full body harnesses and hard hats. They could work hundreds of feet above the ocean inside a wind turbine. And an instructor shows them how to use ropes and carabiners to stop a fall.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 1: It goes up, up and up. Law?

(EXTRACT FROM THE CLICK OF THE EQUIPMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 1: Go up, down, take it off.

(EXTRACT FROM THE CLICK OF THE EQUIPMENT)

WASSER: The offshore construction of Vineyard Wind won’t start until next summer, but Vietze is already imagining himself at sea.

BILLY VIETZE: I’m trying to get into this project here because it’s something that has always interested me. And I’m excited to do it. I would love to be a part of something that will be good for the environment.

WASSER: He wants this job too because he feels guilty since he and a work buddy helped build a controversial natural gas project just south of Boston a few years ago.

VIETZE: We knew it was bad for the environment. But the project was going on with or without our feelings about it. And we said to ourselves, that will make up for that.

WASSER: By the end of the decade, President Biden wants the country to install thousands of offshore wind turbines capable of generating 30 gigawatts of power. It would be like moving all of New England’s power plants to the ocean. The White House says achieving this goal could reduce carbon dioxide emissions while creating 77,000 jobs.

JON GROSSMAN: Creating jobs in and of itself is not the solution. Jobs have to be good jobs, and the people who need them have to be the ones who get them.

WASSER: Jon Grossman is a labor leader from Massachusetts. He says not all green jobs are good. Onshore wind and solar workers tend to earn less than those in coal, natural gas and oil, for example. This is why many unions have been skeptical of green energy.

GROSSMAN: We are concerned about climate change. The problem arises when we feel that we are being asked to pay a disproportionate share of the cost.

WASSER: It’s not every day that the United States builds a new industry like offshore wind from scratch. And there are high hopes for it, including the chance to help solve long-standing labor and environmental justice issues.

But the industry alone will not deliver on those promises, says Carol Zabin. She works at the Berkeley Labor Center at the University of California.

CAROL ZABIN: You have to be really intentional.

WASSER: Zabin says careful planning is needed on the part of policymakers and developers to create well-paying jobs in communities that need them.

ZABIN: I think it’s important to see this as an industrial planning opportunity, which is sort of unheard of in the United States. We don’t plan. We are a market economy. We let the chips fall where they are and try to clean up the mess.

WASSER: She says states and the federal government can invest in training programs, like the one Vietze is taking. And states can sign contracts with wind developers who promise to do things like revitalize crumbling ports. Another powerful tool is project collective agreements. Earlier this summer, Vineyard Wind guaranteed that at least half of the 1,000 construction jobs for its project will go to unionized workers like Vietze. And of those jobs, 20% are reserved for people of color. But many experts point out that most future offshore wind jobs won’t be in construction. They will be in what is called the supply chain, the onshore factories and the suppliers that produce the 8,000 components needed to build a single turbine.

Ross Gould is part of the network of non-profit offshore wind companies.

ROSS GOULD: We need the manufacturing capabilities to be located at the national level in order to be successful with the Biden administration’s plan.

WASSER: When it comes to offshore wind, however, the United States is lagging behind. At present, most of the factories that manufacture blades and lathes are in Europe and Asia. The same is true of the special ships needed to install turbines as large as the Eiffel Tower. But given the future demand for offshore wind around the world, Gould says the United States has a unique opportunity to enter the market before it really takes off or before the wait time for manufactured parts. internationally does not become untenable.

GOULD: Globally, the offshore wind industry is expected to be worth $ 1 trillion by 2040. So we would like a piece of this pie to be localized nationally, right?

WASSER: Efforts are underway to start building these factories here. And Susannah Hatch of the Environmental League of Massachusetts wants states, wind developers, and the business community to make sure they’re located in places where people of color or other underserved communities can get good numbers. of these jobs.

SUSANNAH HATCH: You can’t just say, like, oh, yeah; we will do that. It takes a lot of hard work because a lot of this inequity is simply ingrained in our society. And it’s going to take a lot of work to undo it.

WASSER: New Bedford, Mass. is a city that Hatch and others have their eyes on. It is expected to be the onshore hub for the state’s first two wind projects. And more are likely to follow. New Bedford is a diverse city that has long attracted immigrants to work in the fishing industry. But fishing is not what it used to be.

DANA REBEIRO: There hasn’t been a new industry in New Bedford for some time. Our poverty levels are quite staggering.

WASSER: Former city councilor Dana Rebeiro was born and raised in New Bedford. She is now a Community Liaison Officer for Vineyard Wind and says her top priority is helping people learn about employment opportunities. She’s knocking on doors, going to community events, and recently hosted a Zoom Pizza lunch with girls as part of an after-school program. As a black woman, she says she’s trying to inspire the next generation.

REBEIRO: And it’s really making sure that when there are opportunities, we really go everywhere and let everyone know that these jobs are there, this mentoring program is there, this internship program is there, is not it ?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 1: Descendant.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 2: Okay.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 3: Okay. Go down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 1: Descendant.

WASSER: Back to Mass. Maritime Academy, Billy Vietze watches his union colleagues organize a mock rescue.

VIETZE: I had a certain pride with every project I worked on, whether it was a school or a hospital. But it is something different.

WASSER: Vietze says he can imagine a day when he and his family would fly out of Boston and pass the giant turbines rising out of the ocean. See them, he will tell his son. Your father helped build them. Your father helped create a new industry in the United States

For NPR News, I’m Miriam Wasser in Bourne, Mass.

(EXTRACT FROM “DARK END OF THE STREET” BY RY COODER)

MARTINEZ: This story was co-reported with Ben Storrow from E&E News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

See this story on npr.org


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