Wind project will be powered by skilled workforce
New London — Keith Brothers feels that far too often when local development happens, unions are the last to be contacted, and there's no early assurance that jobs will be local.
But Brothers, business manager of the Connecticut Laborers District Council and president of the Norwich-New London Building Trades Council, said that's not the case with Deepwater Wind, which he's been in contact with for more than a year.
"Clearly Deepwater Wind is a responsible development," he said. "They're looking to hire local, trained workers — a union workforce, which benefits the community."
Brothers finds that, while unemployment in the building trades can rise to 30 or 40 percent in the off-season, it can be below 5 percent during big projects — and that's what he expects when construction gets going for Deepwater Wind.
Among three bids to bring offshore wind to Connecticut, state regulators on June 13 selected Deepwater Wind. The developer said it will invest $15 million in State Pier and deliver power by 2023.
With only one offshore wind farm in the country — Block Island Wind Farm went into operation in December 2016 — it's difficult to ascertain the local economic impact of construction. But union leaders and workforce development officials are optimistic.
In its proposal, Deepwater Wind said its Revolution Wind Project is expected to result in 322 direct jobs during construction.
In the case of the Block Island Wind Farm, Deepwater Wind established a relationship with the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, Deepwater Wind Vice President Matthew Morrissey said. The wind farm then was developed and constructed under a project-labor agreement.
Deepwater Wind also has committed to picking a Connecticut boat-builder to construct the transfer vessel that will take workers to the wind farm during construction. The developer won't be using the transfer vessel utilized for Block Island, Morrissey said, because the scale and location of Revolution Wind merits its own vessel.
Morrissey suspects that the request for qualifications will go out in the next six months, and that construction of the roughly 75-foot catamaran crew vessel would support 12-15 direct jobs.
The developer also has pledged to bring secondary steel work and substation assembly to the terminal, Morrissey said. Requirements on jobs given to local residents, women, minorities and veterans are the kinds of details a project-labor agreement would include.
"I think we're going to need to be prepared to make sure we have an equally aggressive and well-thought-out strategy not only for engaging young people but engaging women, engaging minorities, engaging all parts of the labor force that have so much talent and so much to offer," said John Beauregard, president of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board.
Bringing good jobs to New London County
Beauregard feels the economic impact will be positive because "the region is extremely well-positioned to take on a project such as this." He said Deepwater Wind officials have a strong interest in several EWIB programs, like welding and steel fabrication.
EWIB has seen more than 6,500 applicants for its Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative, which largely is driven by the needs of Electric Boat but also caters to other manufacturers in the region.
Beauregard is looking forward to adding Deepwater Wind to the 166 employers that have hired from the pipeline, which has more than 1,000 graduates.
While some local manufacturers have expressed concern about finding workers with the skills they need, union officials generally don't seem concerned about Deepwater Wind finding skilled laborers.
Connecticut State Council of Machinists President Tony Walter cited the Metal Trades Council's apprenticeship programs due to ramped-up work at Electric Boat, and United Technologies' programs both internally and at Naugatuck Community College.
"It's great when we bring all these jobs in, but we have to make sure that they're jobs people can afford to buy a house and become taxpayers and help out the communities that they live in," Walter said. "They're not going to help us if they're making $14 an hour and renting an apartment."
Walter hopes that, as wind farms pop up along the East Coast in years to come, manufacturing of parts — such as gearboxes — can be brought from Europe to the United States.
Daniel McInerney, business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 488, expressed a similar view.
"Obviously the wind energy is not going to go away, so one of the things is over time it's not going to be cost-effective to ship everything from Europe over to here," he said.
McInerney said that because New London is such a strategic port — with its rail connection, proximity to I-95 and the lack of overhead restrictions — the city's workforce could make parts for the turbines.
Different trades see different needs
Carpenters, ironworkers, elevator constructors, crane operators, pile-drivers, welders, millwrights and electricians will be needed to work on the Revolution Wind project.
McInerney said that because of the lack of overhead restrictions from the pier to the ocean, electricians can do more pre-fabrication work on land, rather than in the water.
One decision from Deepwater Wind that Chris Bachant, business representative for the New England Regional Council on Carpenters, awaits is what type of base will be used.
There are four types of bases, he explained: floating, monopile, jacket and gravity. He said the gravity base can be made here at the port, whereas materials for the others come from Europe.
The ultimate decision will come from Deepwater Wind, who Bachant said will "basically survey the ocean bed, and that's what's really going to determine what's best-suited for what they're going to do."
Bachant said he has made a commitment to New London Mayor Michael Passero to work with him to bring in local people to fill the jobs.
As an example, Bachant said a project-labor agreement might say that 50 percent of the people working on a project have to be New London County residents and 70 percent Connecticut residents, though he noticed that "percentages are very scary."
He said of the Revolution Wind Project, "I think it very well could finally be the stimulus that New London has been looking for for a long time."
Bachant noted that the five turbines at Block Island Wind Farm generated 181,000 man-hours of work — and that the proposal for Revolution Wind is for 75 turbines.
John Humphries, organizer for the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, is excited for this opportunity for labor and environmental folks to be aligned, saying they historically have not always agreed on environmental issues.
He said that as Millstone eventually retires its reactors, he looks to offshore wind not only to replace power but also to replace jobs.
"We don't really have a full knowledge of the ripple effects" of Revolution Wind, Humphries said, "but this is going to be an investment of tens of millions of dollars in the region, so it could transform the local economy."
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