Jul 30, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Bucking trend, offshore wind builds with unions

Illustration collage of a fist, wind turbine, hard hat, and ocean.
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Unions are going offshore to find a receptive renewable energy.

Driving the news: America’s nascent offshore wind industry, which requires uniquely complex infrastructure, is being built out with strong labor agreements that were largely absent from their onshore counterparts.

“Things are changing with offshore wind, which is going to be a big job creator on the East Coast,” said Phil Jordan, vice president at BW Research. “Most of those projects are going to be or already have been under project labor agreements, so a much higher percentage of those workers will be union members.”

The intrigue: In my recent column on how Joe Biden’s climate plan is trying to bring unions into clean-energy industries, numerous union officials and other experts said the main exception to the trend that renewable energy lags on union representation was offshore wind.

How it works: The reason is threefold, according to union representatives, state officials and other experts.

  1. Local governments, especially in New York where lots of offshore wind is in the works, incorporate project-labor agreements into their policies. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) holds power over energy projects to a level most other states don’t.
  2. The European companies leading on development in the U.S. have pro-union histories, namely the Danish company Ørsted, according to Jim Harrison, director of renewable energy at the Utility Workers Union of America.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, the complicated process of moving such big infrastructure around and into the ocean compels cooperation with a reliable workforce, which union officials say their organizations can provide more so than non-union workforces.

“There is no doubt an offshore wind project is a large infrastructure to the greatest degree,” Doreen Harris, acting director of NYSERDA, told me recently. “The complexity and need for safety is in even sharper focus for the offshore wind industry than the land-based [wind] might be.”

Go deeper: Joe Biden’s climate plan tries to bring unions into the clean-energy revolution

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