N.J.’s offshore wind to bring $150 billion in private investment and power thousands of jobs

Frank Kummer | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Not one turbine has been installed off the coast of New Jersey. In fact, not one turbine has been built. And it’s not expected the state’s fledgling offshore wind industry will really take flight until at least the end of 2024 when the first blades start churning out utility-scale megawatts of renewable energy.

Yet, a group of industry insiders say they are already hiring, or gearing up to train or hire tens of thousands of specialized workers in coming decades, from painters to scientists to surveyors needed as New Jersey emerges as what they believe will be a national leader in wind.

Interest is high enough that 2,200 people will attend a three-day International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum conference at the Atlantic City Convention Center later this month where Kadri Simson, European Commissioner of Energy, and Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy, are set to speak.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) recently announced plans to provide more than $1 million to Rutgers University, Rowan University, Montclair State University, and New Jersey Institute of Technology for academic research in offshore wind workforce training. The schools will develop 24 fellowships and other initiatives to advance the industry.

In fact, academic and technical courses will be offered starting this year.

 

‘Once-in-a-generation opportunity’

“Offshore wind is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Jenifer Becker, managing director of Wind Institute Development at New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA). “It’s estimated that offshore wind will result in $150 billion of private investment in the next 15 years. And we want to make sure we’re driving economic and environmental benefits to New Jersey, and particularly to the communities that have been historically underserved or overburdened.”

Becker spoke last week at Rowan University’s annual faculty research day, as did other representatives in the renewable energy industry. The Wind Institute, which has no permanent home yet, serves to coordinate jobs development, research, and funding.

Gov. Phil Murphy has committed to 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035, enough to power about 3 million homes. That means a completely new infrastructure has to be built in the state, including hundreds of skyscraper-high turbines, cables, offshore and offshore substations, and transmission grid connections.

And in February, a U.S. Department of Interior auction brought in $4.37 billion from six winning bids for what the Biden administration calls the “nation’s highest-grossing competitive offshore energy lease sale in history.” The half dozen projects will produce 30 gigawatts of wind energy by 2030 in what’s known as the New York Bight, most of which falls off the coast of New Jersey.

Becker said the state is creating a new supply chain through component manufacturing.

For example, she noted construction is underway by EEW AOS on a monopile fabrication facility at the Port of Paulsboro in Gloucester County, and the largest offshore wind manufacturing facility in the U.S. There, EEW, using union workers, will build hundreds of needed 400-foot long, 2,500-ton monopiles — steel towers that anchor turbines to the ocean floor. The state has invested $250 million in the project and EEW has contracted with 30 companies for design, permitting, site work, and concrete.

And a first-of-its kind New Jersey Wind Port in the U.S. is being built in Lower Alloways Creek, Salem County, where parts will be marshaled at a staging area, and GE-made nacelles will be assembled. Nacelles, each the size of a double-decker London bus, are the housing that contains gears, shafts, generators, and other parts.

Becker said the goal is to start training a New Jersey-based workforce that can capture those jobs. Among the initiatives, including the new fellowships, are:

  • Train students at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology in submerged arc welding and marine coating applications through a program now being developed.
  • Offer wind turbine technician certificates through Rowan by the beginning of 2023, and offer an associate of applied science degree in wind power and turbine technology later the same year.
  • Develop a certified training facility at Atlantic Cape Community College by the end of 2022.

 

‘Many different needs’

Davon McCurry, deputy head of market & government affairs at Ørsted, also spoke at the Rowan event. Ørsted has partnered with PSEG to build two of the state’s first three offshore wind projects, named Ocean Wind 1 and 2 totaling 2,200 megawatts — enough to power one million homes.

McCurry said he expects about 500 jobs to eventually be created just at the Port of Paulsboro to build the monopiles. That doesn’t include jobs expected at the wind port, the Port of Newark / Elizabeth, and Ørsted’s Atlantic City operations and maintenance facility and project office, and operations in Newark. Ørsted has set aside $22 million in a trust to invest in minority- and women-owned firms looking to break into the offshore wind field.

McCurry acknowledged global supply chain problems and other events could impact Ørsted’s plan to start producing power from its first wind farm 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City by the end of 2024.

The work in offshore wind includes logistics, shipping, and even use of helicopters and drones, said Marie-Lou Picherit, an innovation manager at Ørsted.

“I mean this is massive and we have many different needs,” Picherit said, noting that scientific research is critical to “core systems” and electrical transmission.

Ørsted is already hiring marine fisheries managers, engineers, geophysics, accountants, and other professionals for its U.S. operations, though not necessarily for just New Jersey.

 

‘Tens of thousands of jobs’

In a separate interview, Joris Veldhoven, commercial and finance director for Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, said he envisions thousands of jobs forming over the next 30 years.

Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, a partnership between Shell New Energies US and EDF Renewables North America, was selected to build a 1,510 megawatt offshore wind project 10-20 miles off the coast of New Jersey between Atlantic City and Barnegat Light, enough to power 700,000 homes. Atlantic Shores also put in a winning bid of $780 million for one of the federal wind leases.

Veldhoven gave a breakdown of how many jobs the venture’s first wind farm might generate:

  • 1,700 jobs for planning and development that started in 2019 and is expected to run through 2024.
  • 5,700 for manufacturing and construction from 2024 to 2027.
  • 11,100 for operations and maintenance for 30-plus years starting in 2027.

Some of those jobs, such as construction, might just last a few years, while others will be permanent and stretch over decades. In addition, Veldhoven expects up to 9,000 indirect jobs in trade, transportation, real estate, administration, and even hotels and food.

“I think I dare to say it’s tens of thousands of jobs overall,” Veldhoven said. “Though we have no control over indirect jobs.”

While most of those jobs will be based in New Jersey, Veldhoven said he has colleagues living in New York and Philadelphia.

Officials say most of the jobs will pay well. For example:

Both Atlantic Shores and Ørsted have signed agreements with unions to supply workers. Former State Sen. Steve Sweeney, a longtime union official, previously estimated union construction jobs at the monopile plant, which don’t require college degrees, would pay an average of $70,000 a year.

The Wind Institute has a current opening for a project manager paying from $70,000 to $88,000 a year. A private company job listing for a renewable energy engineer gives a salary range of $78,000 to $100,000. And listings for wind turbine technicians pay anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 or more.

 

Scientists already at work

Several Rowan engineering professors are already working with graduate students on innovative wind projects. One project includes a new way to repair wind turbines on-site; another is exploring a new way to investigate the soil of the ocean floor.

Damian Bednarz, managing director at Attentive Energy, which won one of the recent federal offshore wind leases with a bid of $795 million, said the company wants “to bring innovation to the state, as well as looking at how we actually propel the jobs that are going to come with this.”

“A lot of our work here is also thinking about how we expand out the economic opportunity beyond the traditional sources,” Bednarz said. “We’re very focused on the supply chain … I think the state is doing a tremendous job and making sure that it is a leader in offshore wind here and in the country.”

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