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Pressure mounts on offshore wind developers to hire union workers

Promises of job creation that the emerging offshore wind industry are bringing to the U.S. have helped strengthen government support for a wave of project proposals along the Eastern Seaboard. Now, pressure is mounting on developers to hire union workers.

Some of the developers said in Jan. 2 emails that they are in negotiations with unions in multiple states.

On Dec. 30, 2019, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a strong supporter of the industry in Congress, sent a letter to four offshore wind developers encouraging them to "ensure that offshore wind jobs are union jobs."

"The introduction of offshore wind facilities off the coast of Massachusetts is poised to create tens of thousands of new jobs across the region," Markey said in a letter to Vineyard Wind LLC. "To ensure the industry's success, these jobs must be filled by a highly skilled and competent workforce."

Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners K/S and Avangrid Inc.'s Avangrid Renewables LLC, is planning to build its 800-MW Vineyard Offshore Wind Project off the shore of Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

"Massachusetts labor unions stand ready to tackle the opportunities and challenges of projects like Vineyard Wind, and can train and develop the local workforce to meet the demands of the offshore wind industry," Markey said.

Developers acknowledge working with unions

Brendan Moss, a spokesperson for Vineyard Wind, said in a Jan. 2 email that the company is negotiating a project labor agreement with the Massachusetts Building Trades Council to "ensure that the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States utilizes local skilled labor to construct the project."

Markey also sent a letter to Ørsted A/S, which said in a Jan. 2 statement that it used union labor for the first offshore wind project in the U.S., the 29.3-MW Block Island Offshore Wind farm in Rhode Island.

The company has multiple offshore wind project proposals, including its planned 2,000-MW Bay State Offshore Wind off the south coast of Massachusetts with project partner Eversource Energy.

Ørsted and Eversource said in a joint statement that union labor "will be central to the successful development of our planned offshore wind farms, just as it was with our Block Island Wind Farm."

The statement said the companies have reached preliminary labor agreements with unions in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, "and we've forged training partnerships to ensure their members have all the skills they'll need to build these projects."

Markey also sent letters to offshore wind developers Mayflower Wind Energy LLC, a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiary Shell New Energies US LLC and EDP - Energias de Portugal SA subsidiary EDPR Offshore North America LLC, whose Mayflower Wind Offshore Project was selected for Massachusetts' second, 800-MW offshore wind procurement; and Equinor ASA subsidiary Equinor Wind US LLC, whose 816-MW Boardwalk Offshore Wind (Empire Wind) (Rockaway Peninsula) project was one of two selected in a New York procurement. Representatives of the two projects did not immediately respond to requests for comment Jan. 2.