NEW BEDFORD — Since planning began to house the emerging offshore wind industry in New Bedford, public officials and industry leaders have touted the number of jobs it will bring to the regional economy, often loosely in the hundreds or thousands.
On Friday, an initial number was finally announced. The signing of a project labor agreement between Vineyard Wind and the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council solidified the creation of 500 union jobs — both onshore and offshore — in construction, installation and maintenance.
“The signing of this PLA is the culmination of our long-standing promise to the working people of Massachusetts,” announced Vineyard Wind CEO Lars T. Pedersen on Friday. “We now have an agreement in place that will make sure local residents on the SouthCoast, Cape and Islands can reap the greatest possible benefit from this new and growing industry.”
It is the first project labor agreement for an industrial-scale offshore wind project in the United States, speakers said. The agreement also included $500,000 allocated to recruitment and training programs in the building trades for underserved communities.
The signing ceremony was held at the Marine Commerce Terminal, a 29-acre industrial port on New Bedford’s waterfront. The state-operated terminal secured a contract with both Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind late last year, also a national first.
They agreed to devote a portion of the Cannon Street site for a modern seafood offloading facility where the public could view the fishing boats as they purchase fresh fish.
Cannon Street Power Station will be demolished and the surrounding area cleared to develop a staging area for the coming offshore wind industry.
Some jobs, like piecing together the roughly 850-foot turbines, will be on site. Others will be offshore. The 115-foot wide barges, shipping turbines and workers 35 miles to sea, will be also docked along the port, alongside fishing vessels and pleasure crafts.
The agreement enables the workforce behind Vineyard Wind’s 800-megawatt project, the first utility-scale offshore wind project in the United States, with federal approval, speakers said.
“This project means a lot to me. I was here in New Bedford last year, working on the renovations to make sure this pier is stable,” said Josh Griggsby, a member of Piledrivers Local 56. “The wages and benefits that I receive in my union not only benefit me but my 5-year-old son, too.”
The significance of the agreement was represented by the long list of speakers. It included state senators, representatives and White House officials, along with industry and union leaders. With a waterfront backdrop, the fluorescent yellow of union jackets and hardhats meshed with the blue and tan suits on the business side of the industry.
“We’re at the dawn of a new future — powered by the winds off our shores and the fierce urgency to combat our climate crisis,” said U.S. Sen. Ed Markey. “Today’s project labor agreement is a major breakthrough for climate action, good-paying union jobs and equity in Massachusetts.”
The announcement was the third offshore wind development in just over a week in New Bedford. On Wednesday, the city announced that a decommissioned power station would be cleared to develop New Bedford’s second staging area. Last week, Bristol Community College announced plans to develop a former fish house into an offshore wind educational facility.
“For the last decade, New Bedford has strived to position itself as a leader in the offshore wind industry so that we can create opportunity for the residents of our region,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell. “The PLA announced today does just that. It will create a pathway to the middle class by helping to establish solid union jobs, right here in our city.”
The project labor agreement marks the end of a three-and-a-half-year negotiation between the union council and Vineyard Wind, speakers said. The project was sidelined for years under the Trump administration, but was thrust back into the forefront of national policy discussion early in the administration of President Joe Biden.
The Biden administration granted final approval to Vineyard Wind in May to begin construction of its offshore wind project 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. The negotiation reached final terms just two months later.
Pedersen, CEO of Vineyard Wind, which has already built offshore wind farms in Europe, said federal approval is much more difficult in the United States than in Europe.
“They say good things take a long time,” said Kathleen Theoharides, Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary. “So I guess this is a very good thing.”
Other speakers included: Frank Callahan, president of Massachusetts Building Trades Council, which represents the contracted unions; John Lavelle, Offshore Wind CEO of General Electric, which will supply the project; White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy; Congressman Bill Keating and others.
The Massachusetts Building Trades Council comprises 62 local unions representing more than 75,000 working men and women across the state. The Southeastern Building Trades Council is their regional branch, representing thousands of workers on the SouthCoast, Cape Cod and the Islands.
Speakers said the wind farm, which is expected to begin offshore construction in 2023, will provide power to more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, save ratepayers $1.4 billion over the first 20 years of operation and is expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million tons per year — the equivalent of taking 325,000 cars off the road annually.
“New Bedford was the city that lit the world,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “The city is reclaiming that title.”
This project marks the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the country. But there are many farms of similar scale already functioning around the world. When asked by a reporter where New Bedford fits into this growing, global industry, Pedersen responded:
“This is the birth of the U.S. offshore wind industry,” he said. “Right here in New Bedford.”
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