The joint venture behind the massive Vineyard Wind project has signed an agreement to ensure union workers will play a key role in building the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.
Executives from Vineyard Wind and its turbine manufacturer, General Electric, joined politicians and union leaders Friday at the state-funded New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, where much of the wind-farm construction will be staged, to celebrate their new project labor agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council. The deal with the unions is seen as another key milestone in finally launching the Vineyard Wind project, and by extension the nation’s entire offshore wind industry.
Vineyard Wind chief executive Lars Pedersen said the agreement covers about 1,000 jobs over the course of the two-and-a-half-year construction project, including about 500 union jobs. The reportedly $2.8 billion project will be built in federal waters about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, with 62 giant GE wind turbines that will generate about 800 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for more than 400,000 homes. Pedersen said he hopes the project, which is owned by Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, will complete its financing and start construction later this year. The federal permitting process was significantly delayed under the Trump administration, but is now essentially complete under the Biden administration.
Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, said the project labor agreement covers three phases of construction: work on the port, in the water, and on a Cape Cod substation. He said the agreement requires that at least half of the onshore jobs be set aside for people from Southeastern Massachusetts, at least 20 percent for people of color, and at least 10 percent for women. He expects those percentages would likely carry over for the offshore work, although some workers will be in the mix from Europe, where offshore wind is already an established industry.
“This is really going to set the tone up and down the coast” for wind farm developments, said Callahan, who helped negotiate the deal. “You don’t have to choose between the environment and clean energy, and union jobs. . . . You don’t have to sacrifice one to get the other.”
Vineyard Wind would be the country’s first big offshore wind farm, but it certainly won’t be the last: Several Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have launched long-term contracts to ensure more of their electricity comes from renewable sources, following the Massachusetts Legislature’s passage of a clean-energy law in 2016 that included offshore-wind targets.
Among the politicians who attended Friday’s event: US Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, US Representatives Bill Keating and Jake Auchincloss, state Senate President Karen Spilka, state Representative and energy committee cochair Jeffrey Roy, and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. Also on hand: GE Offshore Wind CEO John Lavelle and Avangrid CEO Dennis Arriola, state energy officials Katie Theoharides and Stephen Pike, and Gina McCarthy, President Biden’s point person on climate issues.
“I’ve always felt like Paul Revere, saying, ‘offshore wind is coming, offshore wind is coming,’” said Markey, a prominent renewable energy advocate in the Senate. “Now we’re talking about a clean energy future, . . . and union labor will lead our clean energy revolution and set a precedent for the rest of the country.”
Rival wind-farm developer Ørsted has also made union labor a priority, with a memorandum of understanding signed in November that requires a certain amount of union labor on all its East Coast wind farms, a list that currently includes six projects from Rhode Island to New Jersey. Allison Ziogas, head of US labor relations for the Danish energy company, said each of Ørsted’s wind farms will have their own project labor agreements, much like its five-turbine wind farm off Block Island that opened in 2016.
Ziogas said the agreements help give unions the confidence to expand their recruiting for the nascent industry and ensure that the construction projects provide “family-sustaining jobs.” They also rewarded the labor groups that have been staunch advocates of wind power for years and helped persuade lawmakers to endorse offshore wind contracts.
“They did a great job in terms of educating policymakers on the potential,” Ziogas said.