NEW YORK, N.Y.—Wind-power farms are emerging as a source of both renewable energy and union construction jobs in New York State. But building-trades locals could miss out on a lot of work if the state doesn’t create a port facility where the components for offshore wind farms can be constructed.
New York has about 20 wind farms in operation, capable of producing about 1,800 megawatts, and at least 20 more either under construction or seeking approval from state regulators. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in November that he wanted half the state’s electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030. The state is now seeking proposals for offshore wind farms—which must include project-labor agreements that require contractors to pay prevailing wage.
New York is the first state to require such agreements on offshore wind farms, says Lara Skinner, associate director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University and chair of its Labor Leading on Climate Initiative.
“This is an example of what a Green New Deal could look like,” she says. “Putting people to work addressing climate change.”
“We’re very excited about going on this and getting our guys working,” says Sam Capitano, business manager of the Upstate New York Laborers District Council. “They’re high-paying jobs, a lot of hours per week. It’s a windfall for our members.”
While construction has slowed for the winter, he says, by spring, Laborers members upstate will be helping to build at least four land-based wind farms, including the 126-megawatt Cassadaga facility in Chautauqua County south of Buffalo, which was approved by state regulators in November.
Capitano hopes the others win approval soon, including Invenergy’s 380-megawatt Alle-Catt Wind Farm, which would have 120 turbines in five towns in Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Wyoming counties, about 45 miles southeast of Buffalo. If it gets the go-ahead, construction would start this fall, and it would start producing electricity in the fall of 2020. With the ban on fracking and environmentalist resistance to building oil and gas pipelines cutting into the Laborers’ workload, he adds, “we’re welcoming all the wind farms.”
The governor’s goal of producing half New York State’s electricity from renewable sources is “extremely ambitious,” Capitano says. The state’s peak summer generating capacity is 40,000 megawatts, and less than a quarter of it comes from renewable sources, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Most of that is from hydropower plants such as the 2,400-megawatt Robert Moses Niagara Power Project.
Cuomo’s proposal calls for 2,400 megawatts to come from offshore wind farms by 2030. The state issued a request for proposals last November for facilities capable of generating at least 800 megawatts. Bids are due in February, and the state expects to award contracts in the spring, in time to take advantage of expiring federal tax benefits.
This could be a bonanza for the building trades, Skinner says, from the millwrights laying the foundations to the electricians installing the wiring to the painters coating the turbine blades. There is one major obstacle, however: New York State does not have a port set up to construct offshore wind farms’ massive components, which must be built on land and then shipped to the ocean site where they’re installed. The blades for a 10-megawatt turbine are 300 to 330 feet long, and weigh about 50 tons each. The tower is 360 feet tall and weighs 600 tons—and it’s preferable that most of these components are transported vertically.
“The port is crucial,” says Tim McCarthy, business representative for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 25, based in Hauppauge, Long Island. “Once they put it on a crane barge, there’s only a handful of electricians needed.”
Local 25 has already lost out on the jobs building the components for Deepwater Wind’s South Fork Wind Farm, a 15-turbine, 90-megawatt project 35 miles east of Montauk that’s scheduled to open in 2022. The company, whose 30-megawatt Block Island wind farm is the only offshore wind-power generator in the U.S., decided to make them in Providence, Rhode Island, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, because there was no port available on Long Island. The union might get a relative handful of jobs maintaining the power cables to shore, McCarthy says.
Local 25 advocated using the site of a decommissioned nuclear power plant in Shoreham, on the North Shore about 70 miles east of Manhattan, as the fabrication port. “It would be great to repurpose that as a green-energy place,” says McCarthy. “From a nuclear-power plant to a wind farm, that would be outstanding.”
In 2017, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority looked at 65 possible sites for manufacturing and fabrication facilities in the Hudson Valley, the New York City and northern New Jersey waterfront, and Long Island. It identified five as the most promising, based on criteria such as navigable channel depth, existing port infrastructure, and access to transportation: Shoreham, the Red Hook docks in Brooklyn, the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, N.J., and the decommissioned Werner Power Station in South Amboy, N.J. It said Shoreham and Werner would require costly redevelopment because they are “not currently functioning waterfront terminals,” but the Brooklyn and Bayonne sites might also be problematic because wind-farm components could be too big to ship under the Verrazano Bridge.
But with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere building up to the point where there will soon be irreversible and catastrophic damage to the Earth’s ecosystem, replacing fossil fuels as energy sources is essential—and offshore wind, Skinner says, is “an important way for New York to shift to renewable energy” while creating good jobs.
The state should double its 2030 goal to 4,800 megawatts, she contends; New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy is aiming for 3,500 megawatts.
“There are contracts being signed up and down the East Coast,” she says. “Do we elevate our commitment to the point where there’s enough of a market to manufacture components here?”