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Climate Change

As Offshore Wind Industry Nears N.H., Potential New Workers Show Interest

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Annie Ropeik
/
NHPR

New Hampshire colleges, trade workers and policy makers have high hopes for job growth in the Northeast’s burgeoning offshore wind industry, even if we’re still years away from wind projects in the Gulf of Maine.

That was a major focus of a roundtable on wind industry development at the Port of New Hampshire in Portsmouth Tuesday, with Congressman Chris Pappas, the League of Conservation Voters and members of New Hampshire’s offshore wind commission.

Pappas, a Democrat, sits on the House Infrastructure committee and said he hopes to see an intersection between President Biden’s $2-trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal and his goal of permitting 30 gigawatts of U.S. offshore wind by 2030, as part of his climate change plans.

“While we do need to be talking about our roads and bridges, the conversation can’t stop there,” Pappas said. “It’s got to involve our port infrastructure … and we need to be thinking about the kind of renewable energy development that people here are hungry for. And we’ve got a solution that is just off our coastline.”

Large-scale offshore wind is still in the very early planning stages in the Gulf of Maine. But the industry is rapidly developing in Southern New England and New York, spurring the growth of regional investments from which New Hampshire wind advocates hope to benefit.

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Policymakers said they expect the state to set up an offshore wind procurement program, which would require New Hampshire utilities to invest in wind energy, next year.

State Sen. David Watters, a Democrat from Dover, led a bipartisan bill to do that earlier this year, but it stalled in the Senate Finance Committee after near-unanimous support in the Energy Committee.

Watters said he’s optimistic that a new state Department of Energy, proposed by Gov. Chris Sununu and likely included in the next state budget, will spearhead a similar program in 2022.

“It is quite clear to me that that helps leverage those resources – train workers, protect the environment, with the fisheries and to get major infrastructure investment from the industry,” Watters said. “Plus cheap electricity, okay? So I think we’ll get there.”

Procurements in states like Massachusetts and New York have helped jumpstart major wind industry growth, including projects like Vineyard Wind, which recently became the first large offshore wind farm in the U.S. to reach the construction stage.

As Vineyard Wind is built, New Hampshire director of offshore wind industry development Michael Behrmann said he’ll be watching to see the results of ambitious predictions for the sector around jobs and other economic impacts.  

Behrmann said he thinks federal infrastructure efforts will strengthen New Hampshire’s supply chain and workforce while the state still lacks a procurement program, preparing them to support future wind projects closer to home.

Behrmann’s office is developing a supply chain registry of New Hampshire businesses that could build parts and provide services for the wind sector.

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Representatives for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose members tend to work on energy projects, said the state should consider having any future procurement programs require that the winning projects use New Hampshire labor. These kinds of conditions are common in other states’ procurements.

Marco Lacasse, the business manager for IBEW Local 490, said he’s seeing heightened interest from career changers in joining that labor pool. Many of their newest apprentices, he said, are interested in areas like wind and have graduate degrees or work experience in other, unrelated fields like restaurants.

“Because of the new economy, what happened with COVID – they realize that they have no benefits, they have nothing at the end of the day. So there’s a hunger out there for a change,” Lacasse said. “We’re seeing a vast amount of younger to mid-aged people coming into the trades, and it’s very important that we give them the opportunity and the training they need.”

Pappas said this is a reminder to focus on U.S.-based manufacturing within the push for wind growth. The industry is much more mature in Europe, which could be the source of many components and potentially even workers for American projects.

The state college system says it also hopes to funnel new kinds of workers to the industry – from Great Bay Community College or UNH’s relatively new ocean engineering undergraduate major, one of only a handful like it in the country.

One caveat came from Joe Casey, who represents the IBEW across New England. With wind training programs still developing, he urged Pappas and other policymakers to protect existing union jobs in traditional forms of energy – like gas and nuclear – for now, and help transition those workers to new industries when it’s time.

State Sen. Watters said he thinks offshore wind construction in the Gulf of Maine could overlap with the potential, eventual decommissioning of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently licensed to run through 2050, and one of only two remaining nuclear plants in New England.

Biden’s offshore wind goal for 2030 would be equivalent to adding the power of about 25 new Seabrooks to the grid.

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