[caption id="attachment_226586" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Two workers check the joints at the top of a power-generating windmill turbine in a wind farm in Fruges, near Saint Omer, northern France January 12, 2009. The wind farm, which has 70 power-generating 2 megawatt windmill turbines, is capable of producing 140 megawatts of green energy. That is enough to power some 150, 000 households. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol (FRANCE) - PM1E51C177H01[/caption]
In coming years, Delaware’s Atlantic Ocean vistas will likely be dotted with tiny wind turbines off in the distance, with football-field-length blades rotating to generate renewable energy that will travel through underwater transmission lines to shore.But as the First State prepares for this not-so-sci-fi future, one that’s already well underway to Delaware’s north, south and east, will the state also find a way to reap the economic benefits from a new industry slated to employ tens of thousands of skilled laborers along the East Coast?In some ways, yes. Delawareans will likely play a role in constructing the landward infrastructure needed for offshore wind farms, and there’s economic possibilities in future supply chain needs and even offshore-wind-driven tourism. But some experts argue that Delaware may miss out on the massive number of directly related jobs it could have seen locally because, unlike its neighbors in Maryland and New Jersey, it failed to secure power purchase agreements for pending projects.“We’re at a significant disadvantage there,” said Jeremy Firestone, a University of Delaware wind energy and public policy analysis expert. “That doesn’t mean none of our folks will get jobs, but the companies will probably be much more focused on Marylanders than Delawareans.”Still, two companies planning projects off the coast of Fenwick Island and Ocean City, Md., say they’re eyeing Delaware’s coast, specifically at 3R’s Beach or Tower Road in Delaware Seashore State Park, for landward connections to their offshore projects. That will mean at least some infrastructure-related construction jobs in Delaware’s near future, company officials said. Ørsted, the Danish company building the Skipjack Wind project closest to Delaware’s coastline, also announced last spring a Project Labor Agreement with North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) to construct the company’s American wind farms. With a shrinking unionized labor force in Delaware compared to other nearby states like New Jersey, that agreement could also potentially limit the number of Delawareans playing a direct role in the development of this new industry.“It really creates the chance to develop a brand-new workforce, in many cases, for these unions,” Brady Walker, Ørsted's head of government affairs and strategy, said of the agreement. “It’s about how we can participate and ensure we have the most highly skilled and trained workforce to build these projects.”But with a new industry comes a ripple effect of economic activity, explained Kurt Foreman, president and CEO of the state’s public-private economic development agency, Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP). From the need for workforce development to businesses that can support future trainees and workers traveling off the coast, Delaware still stands to reap the rewards of an explosion in renewable energy activity expected over the next decade, he said. “Offshore wind will have an impact, a positive impact, particularly on jobs and investment on Delaware,” he said. “I just don’t know that we can clearly see what aspects of that we’ll see.”
[caption id="attachment_226587" align="alignleft" width="221"] A worker looks out from a windmill platform at Horns Rev 2, the world's largest wind farm, 30 km (19 miles) off the west coast of Denmark near Esbjerg September 15, 2009. The wind farm is scheduled to officially go online during an opening ceremony on September 17. REUTERS/Bob Strong (DENMARK ENERGY ENVIRONMENT BUSINESS SOCIETY) - GM1E59G0IC401[/caption]
The future power of wind in the First StateUnlike in Europe, where offshore wind has been the norm for decades, offshore wind is a new industry for East Coast states, each of which have to grapple with separate regulatory frameworks and electric grids, explained Cristina Archer, director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Research in Wind.“It’s going to grow very, very rapidly,” she said. “We’re going from zero to the largest installations in the world in, like, seven years. It’s new to everybody in the U.S.”Today, a handful of companies have slated 22 projects along the East Coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina, all in different stages of development. That includes two pending farms closest to Delaware: US Wind’s 1,100-megawatt MarWind and Momentum projects off the coast of Maryland and Ørsted’s 966-megawatt Skipjack Wind projects off the coast of southern Delaware.A recent study prepared for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) found that the development of offshore wind farms along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Virginia will bring $109 billion in spending, creating upwards of 83,000 jobs over the next decade related to construction, factories, ports and boats. Ørsted’s recent agreement to work with union labor on the construction of its American projects, which currently span five states, potentially means choosing from fewer than 6,000 unionized trade and technical workers, or about 13% of that total workforce, if they look in Delaware — a much smaller pool than nearby New Jersey’s estimated 30% unionized trade workforce, according to Delaware Contractors Association (DCA) Executive Director Bryon Short and Delaware Business Times data.The company also has a separate agreement with the state of Maryland, which will purchase the project’s renewable energy credits, to create nearly 750 permanent jobs in that state alone, plus hundreds of temporary construction jobs there.Walker said the NABTU union agreement doesn’t dictate that the company can’t work with any non-unionized workers at all. A spokeswoman with NABTU did not respond to repeated requests for comment.Meanwhile, US Wind has also made “substantial commitments to organized labor organizations,” including with the United Steelworkers to support operations at a steel plant in Maryland — an agreement that’s expected to create over 500 jobs annually.On the state level, Delaware regulators have yet to make any firm moves to support future offshore wind development, and groups like the DCA and DPP said they have not heard of any recent updates on the future job front or how the union labor agreements could impact future possibilities.“We see a future that embraces offshore wind to be a valuable move as it relates to the mitigation side of climate change. But we still have a lot more work to do before deciding,” DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti said in an email.New potential with a new industryIt’ll likely take at least 18 to 24 months, possibly longer, before the economic and job potential of the Maryland projects begin to be realized in Delaware, Foreman and others estimated. In the meantime, organizations like the DPP and UD are considering a whole new related industry: workforce development.Many of the manufacturing-related needs, as well as ongoing operations and maintenance, aren’t just one-time purchases. Equipment will need to be replaced and upgraded at times, creating a lasting workforce — one that will also require expert and ongoing training.Archer said industry experts estimate that one technician will be needed for every megawatt of offshore wind power planned. For the Ørsted and US Wind projects, that means just over 1,000 technician jobs — which could include electricians, engineers, concrete workers and other types of contractors. Regionally, 14,000 megawatts of offshore wind power projects have been awarded, according to the report released earlier this year.While Delaware’s declining unionized trade labor force is smaller than neighbors like New Jersey, there are workers available here and they are highly skilled, Short said. It’s also relatively common to have both organized labor and non-union companies working on different aspects of the same project, he added.If one-quarter of regional technicians are based in Delaware, it’s reasonable to estimate that about 500 already highly skilled people will need to be trained per year between 2023 and 2028, specifically to work on offshore equipment, Archer said. That’s where a new Sussex County-based Offshore Wind Training Center and a supporting $1 million request for the pilot training program, which was submitted by UD in late September, could come into play.“No one is aware of this possibility as a job in Delaware at all right now,” Archer said. “We’re not just going to offer basic safety training — we’re going to train the trainers … Then we will have this local workforce that can continuously train more people as needed.“Basic safety training is just the beginning.”
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