N.J. offshore wind developer Orsted inks deal to use all union labor

This Oct. 1, 2020 photo shows windmills at a utility plant in Atlantic City N.J.

This Oct. 1, 2020 photo shows windmills at a utility plant in Atlantic City N.J. (Wayne Parry/AP)

New Jersey offshore wind developer Orsted recently inked a deal to use all union labor for its projects along the East Coast.

Biden Administration officials helped broker the agreement between Orsted and North America’s Building Trades Unions, as part of its goal to generate 30 gigawatts of wind energy by 2030, while simultaneously developing green energy jobs.

The National Offshore Wind Agreement has the support of the South Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, 15 international union presidents and their locals, and includes all contractors and subcontractors that will work to build the company’s wind farms between Maine and Florida.

In New Jersey, the company plans to build and operate Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2 in conjunction with PSE&G utility, which together will produce 2200 megawatts of energy. Orsted built the first offshore wind farm, Block Island Wind, in Rhode Island, and currently has six additional projects in the works on the Atlantic Coast. Those include Skipjack Wind I and II off the coasts of Delaware and Maryland. The company says these wind farms will deliver a combined 5,000 megawatts of energy to the East Coast.

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Biden administration officials say it’s part of a push toward what is known as a “just transition,” which aims to create well-paying green jobs as the country moves away from fossil fuels like coal and gas, and toward renewables like wind and solar.

Speaking at a signing ceremony Thursday, May 5, President of North America’s Building Trades Unions Sean McGarvey said the deal is a groundbreaking model for protecting a middle-class workforce that has benefitted from the fossil fuel industry.

“When people get aggravated with the building trades because they don’t always seem to just fall into line, because we have this solemn obligation to represent the economic interests of our members,” he said. “We are believers in climate change and we want to do our part. But we need that ‘just transition.’”

McGarvey praised administration officials for ironing out differences that led to the National Offshore Wind Agreement with Orsted.

“It’s a union agreement that’s going to lift additional people up and maintain tens of thousands of families in the middle class,” said McGarvey.

The deal includes commitments to apprenticeship programs that will include opportunities for  women, communities of color, and the formerly incarcerated.

A wind lease sale off the coasts of New York and New Jersey in February generated a record-breaking $4.37 billion dollars. The Biden administration recently announced plans to expand offshore wind in federal waters off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. The proposed areas off the coasts of Delaware and Maryland encompass 235,222 acres.

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White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy called the deal a model for green energy development.

“With the new lease sales, the new project approvals, we are showing the world that the United States is open for business, business run by union members,” McCarthy said.

Orsted’s CEO David Hardy said the deal sets a national standard.

“We’re going to build an American offshore wind energy industry with American workers, family-sustaining wages, and robust and equitable training programs,” Hardy said.

Offshore wind development has gotten pushback from fishermen, coastal residents and some environmentalists. Fisheries say massive wind farms will impact their catch. Coastal residents worry it will drive away tourism, impact the endangered Atlantic right whale, and drive up electricity costs.

The group Ocean City Flooding opposes Orsted’s project off the coast of South Jersey, and says the labor deal doesn’t take into account potential job losses in the fisheries industry.

“We support jobs for Americans, however it should be noted that here in Cape May County Orsted has not committed to one job and in fact there will be a loss of jobs in the commercial fishing industry at the Cape May/Wildwood port,” said Suzanne Hornick, one of the group’s founders.

She says while the deal focuses on labor, other issues remain such as threats to marine life, migrating birds, the endangered Atlantic right whale, along with potential rate hikes and declining property values.

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