Second in a two-part series.
NEW BEDFORD — Even as stacked-up wind turbine blades and towering cranes preside over New Bedford’s harbor, a key question about the offshore wind industry remains. How many jobs will it provide in New Bedford and Southeastern Massachusetts?
The phrase “thousands of jobs” is oft-repeated, but largely unquestioned, as developers, media, and politicians have heralded the green technology. Offshore wind is projected to produce more than half of Massachusetts’s energy by 2050, and it’s essential to meeting the state’s carbon reduction goals.
“One day we will power our lives with wind energy,” said Gov. Maura Healey when she visited New Bedford in March. The expansive wind farms, Healey said, will be more than a solution to the climate crisis: they could transform New Bedford into “the global capital of the offshore wind industry,” she said.
But the exact job numbers have been fuzzy. One developer, SouthCoast Wind — which has since asked to terminate its contract — claimed on its website that its 2,400 megawatts project would produce 27,000 jobs. On a different subpage was a lower number by almost half: 14,000 jobs.
Vineyard Wind, the developer now occupying New Bedford’s port, has also made promises of “thousands of jobs” and now is constructing the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States.
The Light took a closer look at the Vineyard Wind project and the promises surrounding it to understand how many jobs and other benefits are coming to the region.
The majority of Vineyard Wind’s contracts have not gone to companies in New Bedford, the Southeastern Massachusetts region, or even within the U.S. Only 4% of the value of Vineyard Wind’s subcontracts were awarded to companies in Southeastern Massachusetts, according to a study the developer commissioned that was made public earlier this year. Massachusetts-based companies won less than 20% of the value of awarded contracts, and more than half of spending went to non-U.S. international companies, as domestic capacity for the industry is still ramping up.
“The first project is always going to have the biggest hurdle when it comes to who’s ready and what companies are available,” said Jen Cullen, senior manager of workforce development for Vineyard Wind. Cullen also noted that the study primarily reflects jobs created during the development and design phases — not during construction, for which she expects local hiring to increase.
“A lot of the design and engineering are being done by companies who have built these things before,” Cullen said. Those companies are mostly in Europe. The 500 union jobs that Vineyard Wind promised to Southeastern Massachusetts are being hired now, and they’re part of the between 1,700 and 2,100 jobs the developer forecasted in Massachusetts across all phases of the project.
The long-held promise of employment ran into reality when, this May, the first arrival of wind turbine components brought temporary work for 300 laborers to unload parts. New Bedford’s historic longshoremen’s union only obtained 12 jobs after picketing the port and shutting down all work.
“It’s not going to change the community if you don’t hire anybody local,” the longshoremen’s president, Kevin Rose, told The Light in May.
In total, only 38% of Vineyard Wind’s Massachusetts-based employees are residents of the Southeastern part of the state, according to their commissioned study. Cullen said she expects this year’s report, which will account for construction jobs when it’s filed in November, to find that more than half of employment will be based in the region. The developer is on track to fulfill its commitment to the union jobs, she said.
“That’s something we are tracking now,” Cullen said.
How many jobs were promised?
At the heart of the matter is how Vineyard Wind and other developers have counted their promised and created jobs. The definitive number that Vineyard Wind promised is “3,600 full time equivalent (FTE) job years” in Massachusetts. The average person could be forgiven if they thought this meant there would be more than 3,000 new jobs created.
What “FTE job years” actually means, however, is that the number of new jobs are multiplied by the number of years those jobs will exist.
For example, there will be about 80 jobs in the operations and maintenance of the Vineyard Wind 1 farm, but there are 25 years for which that farm must be maintained in its initial lease. Multiplying 80 jobs times those 25 years results in 2,000 “FTE job years.”
And that’s how 80 new positions represent more than half of the “thousands of jobs” that people assumed this offshore wind developer would bring. That distinction wasn’t always clear in the years of anticipatory chatter from the developer, politicians and media.
“Federal Milestone will Launch Offshore Wind Industry and Bring Thousands of Jobs,” read the subtitle of a May 2021 press release from Vineyard Wind after the federal government approved the project. In that release, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said: “The Vineyard Wind project will generate clean energy for Massachusetts families and businesses [and] create thousands of good jobs.” Former Gov. Charlie Baker said he was proud to be “working with Vineyard Wind to create thousands of jobs.”
Press coverage repeated it, too. “New Bedford hopes to soon be the operations center for the first major offshore wind farm in the United States,” the New York Times wrote in 2018, “bringing billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs to the town and other ports on the East Coast.” In 2022, a WPRI website headline read, “New Bedford offshore wind industry to bring thousands of jobs.”
Using this specialized metric of “job years” is more accurate, said one Vineyard Wind official, as it would be easier to inflate job creation if the company counted a months-long gig for an electrician the same as a career-long maintenance job.
An official jobs estimate came in 2018, when the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center forecasted 2,200 to 3,100 “job years” in wind construction on four offshore wind projects totaling 1,600 megawatts through the end of the 2020s (Vineyard Wind’s farm alone will generate 800 megawatts). The study projected near 10,000 “job years” in Massachusetts when considering supply-chain jobs and growth to the overall economy.
“Those supply chain jobs are not captured in our data,” said Cullen, of Vineyard Wind. “That’s where New Bedford is really going to see long-term job creation. It’s not going to be people directly employed by Vineyard Wind.”
Most ‘job years’ will be based on Martha’s Vineyard, not in New Bedford
Unlike in construction, jobs in operations and maintenance and operation last for decades. That’s why they make up the bulk of the promised “job years.” However, for Vineyard Wind, these jobs won’t directly benefit New Bedford. In its Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with local unions, the developer said that every one of its operations and maintenance positions will be based on Martha’s Vineyard for 20 years.
New Bedford and other South Coast communities won’t get those jobs, but could benefit from indirect jobs and the growth of the industry.
“While New Bedford is a huge community for us, so is the Vineyard and so is the Cape,” said Cullen. The promise to place almost all long-term maintenance jobs on the island is “a different kind of commitment” than what the developer made to New Bedford, Cullen said.
Even among vital stakeholders on the South Coast, this fact is less well known. For example, Yvonne Tobey is the executive director of Building Pathways South, a regional office that recruits and trains people to join professions in the building trades (such as electricians and millwrights) and their affiliated unions. She was present — and moved to tears, she said — during the sunny 2021 ceremony in New Bedford that announced Vineyard Wind’s labor agreement with several unions. Since then, her training program has received funds made available that day.
Tobey did not know that all Vineyard Wind’s operations and maintenance jobs would be based on Martha’s Vineyard.“That’s the first I’ve heard of that,” she told The Light. But Tobey said people on the South Coast could still move out to the island and win those jobs. “Everyone has to choose their own path. My job is to give them the tools to do that.”
Some are skeptical that the small island community could host all those jobs, including Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. “I know what the physical infrastructure requirements are, and the ports of Martha’s Vineyard have a gap,” he said.
“We have some advantages here [in New Bedford]. There’s no single port that can handle all the needs of the industry, or even just specific projects.” Though Vineyard Wind is building out port capacity on Martha’s Vineyard, Santos said he believes some operations will eventually need to come from other ports, and that New Bedford is the best positioned alternative.
Not many contracts stay in the region
The promise of job creation was never made to New Bedford alone. However, Massachusetts, and especially its Southeastern corner, were promised special preference in hiring by Vineyard Wind’s Project Labor Agreement. That’s why the developer tracks how many jobs and contracts stay in the region — and that’s how we know that only 4% of the subcontracts’ value is going to companies in Southeastern Massachusetts.
The total number of jobs that Vineyard Wind employed in Massachusetts, at the end of last year, was 122 positions, or 278 “FTE job years” (which, again, counts jobs repeatedly for each year they exist). Though the construction and assembly phase hadn’t started when the report was completed, less than half of in-state workers (38%) were residents of Southeastern Massachusetts.
No description was included for what types of jobs were created, but the Business Network for Offshore Wind recently reported that 41% of all offshore wind jobs in the United States are in consulting.
The Vineyard Wind-commissioned study also did not include a breakdown of hiring in some demographic groups, such as racial identity, that were part of the labor agreement commitments.
Still, Vineyard Wind has celebrated its progress, saying the study demonstrated it had exceeded projected economic output and creation of “FTE job years.”
According to the report’s authors Michael Goodman and David Borges, regulatory burdens erected during the Trump administration in opposition to wind development extended the planning phase by years and increased the project’s cost. This is what led to this increased “economic impact.”
Goodman and Borges described Southeastern Massachusetts’ 4% cut of awarded contracts as “modest,” but they add that “these contracts are not insignificant to the region, particularly since many contracts are with small companies or organizations."
New Bedford's port holds a long-term advantage
Though the promise of jobs wasn’t made to New Bedford alone, every new offshore wind project that comes after Vineyard Wind will likely depend on the former whaling port, which is a linchpin in bringing offshore wind to the United States.
While the entire Northeastern U.S. has remained highly constrained in its available port space, New Bedford has developed a massive wind staging port on the edge of some of the gustiest, shallowest coastline on the entire Atlantic Ocean — perfect conditions for wind farms.
Local officials and community stakeholders hope that the Port of New Bedford — the same deep-water harbor that upstaged Nantucket’s shallows in whaling times — can revitalize the city with the development of a major 21st-century industry.
“These jobs belong to our (South Coast) residents. Yes, they do,” said Tobey, the Building Pathways South director.
But when other offshore wind projects join Vineyard Wind off the Massachusetts coast, the city will have to continually secure new contracts to remain relevant, industry observers say. Construction of a wind farm only lasts two to three years. And cities like New Bedford are racing to attract developers who will quickly move into leaner operations once the wind farms are built. If even one offshore wind developer in the pipeline decides to contract with a different port (or if their project falls through), it could mean a years-long lull at New Bedford’s port.
The U.S. — and Massachusetts in particular — is poised for heavy development in the offshore wind industry, thanks in part to state and federal green energy commitments. But there are currently no developer contracts in Massachusetts beyond this decade. It is a generational bet that more contracts will come through.
Even when these contracts do roll in, developers will be held to a standard of “best effort” to demonstrate they have hired from diverse and local populations, according to Carol Oldham, northeast director for the Business Network for Offshore Wind. In other states, like Maryland, employers must show that a specific threshold of their employees come from protected classes.
What does this mean in practice? Take the recent job fairs Vineyard Wind hosted in New Bedford. Neither the developers nor the subcontractors will be held accountable for the exact number of women or minorities hired at these events. Instead, Vineyard Wind can point to the fact that it organized these events as evidence of its effort.
Or take Yvonne Tobey. She said Vineyard Wind recently granted her an additional $5,000 to pay for billboards that advertise her training across the South Coast. This could demonstrate effort, whether or not the electricians she trains could ever move to Martha's Vineyard for the jobs maintaining the turbines.
Jen Downing, executive director of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster, the newly launched nonprofit dedicated to New Bedford’s waterfront industries, said she believes there is a “genuine effort” from all her contacts at Vineyard Wind to deliver on the promises of the labor agreement. She pointed to people like Dana Ribeiro, the former city councilor and current Vineyard Wind community liaison, saying, “I feel like they're trying to set the standard for the industry.”
The Ocean Cluster, as it happens, also received financial backing from Vineyard Wind — $200,000 according to a Vineyard Wind official — that could be used to demonstrate the developer’s effort.
Still, Downing said she believes that Vineyard Wind wants to benefit the local workforce: “The intent is there. How successful it will be remains to be seen. The proof will be in the pudding, eventually,” she said.
Those proof points are now being worked out: so far 31 people have been hired from the job fairs in New Bedford, according to Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moller. He made this announcement at Bristol Community College, telling a small crowd, “I want Vineyard Wind to be an inspiration for the next generation. You can have a fantastic career and make a difference — and it’s all right here.”
“I’ll be even more proud if people can learn from this project,” Moeller said. The first-ever project won’t be perfect, he said, but the new industry can “learn from our mistakes.”
This New Bedford Light project was supported by a fellowship with the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. This is part two of a two-part series.
Email Colin Hogan at email@example.com