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Op-Ed: What Offshore Wind Could Do for Economy and Jobs in New Jersey

If state delivers on governor’s plan, it would mean a lot for responsible environmental policy and economic development — and for union workers

John Shinn & Debra Coyle McFadden
John Shinn and Debra Coyle McFadden

Sometimes success is about being in the right place at the right time. Eight years after the signing of one of the nation’s most robust laws to open the market to offshore-wind generation, New Jersey’s moment has arrived.

On September 13, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state is on course to reach its benchmark goal of 3,500 megawatts of offshore-wind energy capacity by 2030. And on October 1, he announced the creation of the Wind Innovation & New Development Institute, a key plank of his economic master plan which will catalyze investment to meet offshore-wind goals. Matched with the tangible actions of the Board of Public Utilities which last month unanimously approved opening an application window for 1,100 MW of offshore-wind capacity, we now stand on the verge of realizing the paired goals of responsible environmental policy and investment in dynamic economic development for New Jersey and the region.

The investment in offshore wind is strategic because of the expected capacity to match — and exceed — existing energy needs. “Wind Power to Spare,” a recent Environment New Jersey report, indicates there is enough wind off the Atlantic coast to generate four times the amount of electricity that the region currently consumes. New Jersey is well-positioned to harness abundant renewable energy from Atlantic Ocean wind currents, with our largest urban areas, Newark and Jersey City, proximate beneficiaries.

At the August Jersey Renews “Time for Turbines” event in Atlantic City, top international offshore-wind developers, state officials, labor leaders, and environmentalists discussed the tremendous progress the offshore-wind industry has made in the last 12 months. The industry is “back in business” in New Jersey, and now is the time for leaders to seize this opportunity to combat climate change with clean-energy technology, while bolstering rewards for the economy.

Thousands of jobs

Let’s look at job creation. According to a new economic analysis, New Jersey stands to gain over 4,300 construction jobs, based on an enhancement to 352 MW capacity of offshore wind, as part of a regional buildup. In fact, state targets for the first wave of installations are roughly triple the capacity anticipated by the study.

Offshore-wind development can translate into expansive job creation beyond construction and operation. As the state looks to green-light projects, preference should be given to sourcing materials in New Jersey or regionally to bolster manufacturing jobs and grow our local economy with well-paying jobs.

Historically, union jobs in domestic manufacturing have served as a vital path to the middle class. Domestically manufacturing components like wind turbines, blades, etc., would ensure that New Jersey’s commitment to economic and environmental benefits is met. On average, one megawatt of wind capacity requires 103 tons of steel, 402 tons of concrete, 6.8 tons of fiberglass, 3 tons of copper, and 20 tons of cast iron.

There is a broad supply chain within the United States for onshore-wind energy, some of which could be tapped for materials or skills to contribute to New Jersey’s capacity. Many of these are already high-quality union jobs making steel plate, steel castings, gears, bearings, and cement, all essential components for a wind turbine.

Revitalizing the American Dream

This industry could be a real pathway to revitalizing the American Dream by creating stability and the promise of upward mobility within a dynamic industry. Offshore-wind projects call for a diverse, well-trained workforce, relying heavily on advanced manufacturing and skilled labor for construction, installation, operations, and maintenance.

In fact, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which creates public/private partnerships for financing, similarly touted the promise of offshore wind at the “Time for Turbines” event. With its location at the center of the East Coast wind belt, access to major ports, a skilled workforce, and fully committed stakeholders, New Jersey is strategically positioned to be an economic leader in the region’s adoption of offshore wind.

The time is right for New Jersey. We cannot allow this momentum to slow down. The investment will produce priceless results for the health and economic vitality of our state for generations.

John Shinn is director of District 4 for the United Steelworkers and NJ Work Environment Council Board member.

Debra Coyle McFadden is acting executive director for the New Jersey Work Environment Council.

Both organizations are partners in the Jersey Renews coalition working toward state-based policy solutions to address climate change.

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