Wind turbines, of the Block Island Wind Farm, tower over the water on October 14, 2016 off the shores of Block Island, Rhode Island. AFP via Getty Images hide caption
AFP via Getty Images
Wind turbines, of the Block Island Wind Farm, tower over the water on October 14, 2016 off the shores of Block Island, Rhode Island.
AFP via Getty Images
The United States is trying to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in order to meet its climate goals under the Paris climate agreement. A major contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is the energy sector, which accounts for about 25% of total emissions.
The Biden administration wants to significantly reduce this figure and is pushing the development on offshore wind along America's coasts. Its goal is to have 30 gigawatts of offshore wind online by 2030 and that will require thousands of new jobs, especially in the construction sector.
It's one of the reasons why President Biden often brings up the idea of new economic opportunities when he talks about tackling climate change.
While countries in Europe and Asia have been exploring offshore wind for years, it's still a fairly nascent industry in the U.S. The first offshore wind farm in the U.S. started operations in 2016. That's 25 years after the first offshore wind turbines started turning in Europe.
Though other renewable energy sources, such as solar and onshore wind, have been around for decades in the U.S., they often lack the protection and job security provided by unions. Offshore wind wants to change this by unionizing large parts of its workforce.
This could also entice more fossil fuel workers to look for a future in clean energy. As a 2021 study has shown, the average compensation in the clean energy sectors still lags behind those in the fossil fuel industry. In California, for example, the average compensation for a clean energy worker is about $86,000. For a fossil fuel worker it's about $130,000.
"Higher unionization rates should promote gains in compensation and better working conditions," according to the study.
North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU), a labor organization representing more than 3 million workers across 14 unions in the U.S. and Canada, is preparing its members to compete for those upcoming opportunities.
"I think offshore wind energy is poised to support good paying union jobs, middle class wages, we're seeing a lot of positive movement for it," says Trevor Falk, who is a special assistant for energy policy at NABTU.
Industrial painter Maximo Decaba was one of four painters who worked on the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. He says the opportunity changed his life. Maximo Decaba hide caption
Industrial painter Maximo Decaba was one of four painters who worked on the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. He says the opportunity changed his life.
Maximo Decaba, an industrial painter, experienced this first hand. He had the opportunity to work on the country's first offshore wind farm - the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island.
"With that job, I made enough money to buy my first home," says Decaba, who has been working as a painter since he was 15. "It's time we get off fossil fuels, and it's time people make an honest living with green energy."
Decaba was one of four union painters who went out to sea to provide to give the five wind turbines a fresh coat of paint. Overall, the project created more than 300 construction jobs.
"It took us two-and-a-half months to do it," he says. "Now every time I see a commercial [for the wind farm], I tell everybody that's in the room, 'I painted that. I was one of the painters there.'"
Decaba enjoyed the Block Island project so much that he's back working on another wind farm. But this time, he's only doing the onshore work.
Currently, there are only two offshore wind farms in operation in the U.S. with a combined capacity of 42 megawatts. Several other projects are at various stages of permitting and construction. Getting to 30 GW of offshore wind by the end of this decade will require a construction boom along the U.S. coastlines.
And even though there are many projects in the pipeline, the current economic conditions of rising interest rates and high inflation, as well as supply chain constraints present significant challenges that could delay the growth of America's offshore wind industry.
Offshore wind work requires a certain lifestyle. Being out at sea for weeks or months at a time is not for everyone, but Jennifer Cullen, senior manager of Labor Relations & Workforce Development for Vineyard Wind, says interest in the company's offshore wind project remains high.
Vineyard Wind has already started construction of its onshore substation. Offshore of its wind farm is expected to start later this year. H.J. Mai/NPR hide caption
Vineyard Wind has already started construction of its onshore substation. Offshore of its wind farm is expected to start later this year.
Workers can find opportunity on other offshore wind farms, but the lifestyle is tough, she says.
Vineyard Wind is building the country's first commercial-scale offshore wind project. The 800 MW wind farm will be located 15 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. That's enough to power more than 400,000 homes.
The project will employ 1,700 workers over 25 years, according to an analysis by the former UMass Dartmouth Public Policy Center.
Vineyard Wind signed a project labor agreement (PLA) with local labor organization Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council in 2021, which will result in at least 500 union jobs.
Last year, Ørsted, signed a PLA with NABTU that covers all of its U.S. offshore wind projects. Tom Kriger, NABTU's research and education director, says these agreements are making offshore jobs more attractive than other clean energy jobs.
"Clean energy jobs are not by definition good jobs," he says, it takes commitment from companies, tradespeople, and governments to "create good jobs."
Alex Barham, an instructor with Ironworkers 5 in Maryland. H.J. Mai/NPR hide caption
Alex Barham, an instructor with Ironworkers 5 in Maryland.
Unions provide apprenticeship training through registered programs. The average starting salary in U.S. for apprentice who completed the program is $77,000, although it varies by industries.
Due to the higher safety risks of working on a offshore wind farm, six-figure salaries are not out of the ordinary.
Alex Barham, an instructor with labor union Ironworkers 5 in Maryland, says that all that is required to get going is a high school diploma or GED.
"They're getting on-the-job training. And then for two weeks every six months - so we have two semesters a year — they'll come to class, but they get the majority of their training, actual specifics in the field," Barham says.
This type of registered apprenticeship program takes four years to complete. The building trades unions call it the other four-year degree.
With hundreds of square miles of untapped potential along American shores, offshore wind will grow exponentially in the coming years, and both American workers and the environment will benefit from it.
This digital piece was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi.
The design, manufacture and operation of offshore wind assets have their own set of challenges including corrosion, fatigue, erosion, lightning strikes and biofouling.Which of the following are the challenges to offshore wind installation? ›
- Supply chain constraints for the manufacturing of export cables.
- Routing the export cables to an onshore point of interconnection.
- Protecting the export cables.
- Minimizing the environmental impact of installed cables.
Offshore wind is good for the environment because it generates electricity without burning any fuel or emitting any carbon dioxide.What are 3 negative things about wind farming? ›
There also some *cons* when it comes to wind energy:
Wind turbines are a potential threat to wildlife such as birds and bats. Deforestation to set up a wind farm creates an environmental impact. Noise is a complaint with many wind farms that are close to communities. Some people find wind farms to be unsightly.
Neighbors complain that the sights and sounds of the spinning blades cause headaches, nausea and other health problems. Critics also complain both about the noise from the rotors and low-frequency "infra-sound."What are the challenges faced by wind power generation? ›
The main challenge in wind energy production design is to minimize the Levelized Production Cost (LPC), which is the ratio between energy production cost and economic lifetime.What are the disadvantages of offshore wind energy? ›
Disadvantages of offshore wind power
Offshore wind farms require more complex infrastructure to support them and, as a result, are more expensive to construct. Higher wind speeds, strong seas and accessibility issues makes offshore wind farms more challenging to maintain.
One of the biggest downsides of wind energy is the noise and visual pollution. Wind turbines can be noisy when operating, as a result of both the mechanical operation and the wind vortex that's created when the blades are rotating.What are 4 disadvantages of wind energy? ›
Some of the main disadvantages of wind energy include unpredictability, it is a threat to wildlife, it creates low-level noise, they aren't aesthetically pleasing, and there are limited locations suitable for wind turbines.Who is the largest offshore wind company? ›
According to Danish energy firm Orsted, the facility has a capacity of more than 1.3 gigawatts. A facility described by Danish energy firm Orsted as the “world's biggest offshore wind farm” is now fully operational, with its 165 turbines set to help power in excess of 1.4 million U.K. homes.
1. Delaware: With investments in offshore wind power, Delaware could generate more electricity than it now produces from all other sources.Why offshore wind is the future? ›
Boosting offshore wind power is seen as a way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and speed the journey to net zero, and it can also create jobs and economic growth.What are the three 3 main factors that affect wind power? ›
There appear to be at least three important environmental factors that affect wind power generation: wind speed, wind direction, and air density.Why is wind energy not popular in the US? ›
The inflexibility, variability, and relative unpredictability of wind power as a means for electricity production, are the most obvious barriers to an easy integration and widespread application of wind power."  Thus, the uncertainty of the wind requires a system that is always available to replace all the ...Do windmills lower property values? ›
Facts First: While some properties can see a decrease in value when turbines are planned and constructed nearby, several major academic studies found no statistically significant decrease in the average property value due to wind turbines in the US.Why are farmers against wind turbines? ›
Landowners complained they didn't want the towers on their landscape because all those turbines would alter the way their natural land looks. They were concerned that the flashing lights would keep them up at night and that the money the local county would bring in wasn't worth it.Why are wind farms bad for the environment? ›
Birds and bats can be injured or killed if they are hit by turbine blades. These deaths may contribute to declines in the population of species also affected by other human-related impacts. The wind energy industry and the U.S. government are researching ways to reduce the effect of wind turbines on birds and bats.What are some of the negative impacts of wind energy? ›
Perhaps the most widely studied negative consequence of wind power is the threat to local species populations, particularly birds and bats. When the blades of wind turbines rotate at high speeds, the air pressure around the blades shifts and increases the likelihood of birds and bats colliding with the blades.What are the 3 pros of wind turbines? ›
WIND POWER BENEFITS
It does not contaminate, it is inexhaustible and reduces the use of fossil fuels, which are the origin of greenhouse gasses that cause global warming.
Storage cannot be economic for a fuel saver
7. Wind only blows for one third of the time on average, so it will take 3 time as long and cost 3 time as much to store only wind compared with nuclear or any other continuously available type of power. 8.
Harnessing power from the wind is one of the cleanest and most sustainable ways to generate electricity as it produces no toxic pollution or global warming emissions. Wind is also abundant, inexhaustible, and affordable, which makes it a viable and large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.What are the most common failures for wind turbine? ›
The most common external wind turbine failure is typically damage to the blades caused by bird strikes, lightning strikes, rainfall, blade furniture detachment, delamination, leading-edge corrosion or blade cracks.What is the lifespan of a wind turbine? ›
A good quality, modern wind turbine will generally last for 20 years, although this can be extended to 25 years or longer depending on environmental factors and the correct maintenance procedures being followed.What is the failure rate of wind turbines? ›
Reliability of wind turbines has improved with time and has achieved an availability of 98%, but wind turbines fail at least once per year, on average, with larger wind turbines failing relatively more frequently.What is the main problem with wind farms? ›
Sound and visual impact are the two main public health and community concerns associated with operating wind turbines. Most of the sound generated by wind turbines is aerodynamic, caused by the movement of turbine blades through the air.What are 2 negative effects of wind turbines on the environment? ›
Wind power development may result in a variety of negative effects, including landscape disruption (Azjen, 1991), noise pollution, and adverse impacts on wildlife, particularly birds.Do wind farms harm the environment? ›
Wind turbines have some negative effects on the environment
Some types of wind turbines and wind projects cause bird and bat deaths. These deaths may contribute to declines in the population of species also affected by other human-related impacts.