November 7, 2017 at 5:00 am ET
For states along the Atlantic Coast that have a strong offshore wind resource, a main motivation for trying to tap it is to provide economic benefits, especially by creating jobs. But quantifying the potential economic returns and job creation can be complicated. Would the jobs created be few and mostly go to foreign suppliers? Would the jobs last for only a few months or many years?
To answer such questions, the states of Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island commissioned a detailed study to determine how many jobs offshore wind in the Northeast region could create in the United States. And it turns out that it could be a large number, with potentially the equivalent of more than 36,000 full-time workers employed in offshore wind within a decade.
BVG Associates, a firm with in-depth knowledge of the job structure of the global offshore wind industry, carried out the complex analysis. In conjunction with a Scottish university, BVG has developed an economic model that allows it to estimate how many jobs — and which types of jobs — are needed for installing and operating an offshore wind farm of a given size. This methodology has been applied across Europe for a range of offshore wind stakeholders, including government agencies, developers and suppliers.
The states asked BVG to calculate the jobs impacts of two possible scenarios for the coming 13 years through 2030. The first, lower scenario envisions 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, roughly equivalent to meeting the targets set by existing Massachusetts law and by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). A second scenario projects 8,000 megawatts, which would mean taking advantage of additional opportunities to develop offshore wind in the Northeast.
For both scenarios, BVG concluded that a minimum of about 45 percent of the required jobs would be performed here in the United States. But those numbers are just baseline starting points. The reason why not all the jobs would necessarily be domestic is that Europe already has a well-developed offshore wind industry with the ability to supply offshore wind equipment. However, if there is a strong pipeline of U.S. offshore wind projects, American industry will have an incentive to build factories and other facilities to capture many more of the total jobs created by developing offshore wind. In the economic modeling, when additional jobs with a high or medium probability of being performed in the United States are assumed to be performed here, the low scenario would yield the equivalent of 195,000 full-time job years over the lifetime of the wind farms, with a peak equivalent to 12,600 full-time jobs in 2028.
In the high scenario, nearly all the jobs would have a high or medium probability of being performed in the United States. This would translate into a total of 500,000 full-time job years, with a peak equivalent to 36,300 full-time jobs in the late-2020s.
The study by the three states found that there would be an especially strong need for technician-level workers, including in production roles in manufacturing, in vessel operation, as wind turbine technicians, and in testing turbines, cables and power substations. These are the types of jobs that the United States has been losing and having difficulty creating in recent years.
The analysis provides a good picture of the specific jobs that will be required and the supply chain businesses that can be developed. Both the private sector and the states can use this information to figure out how best to grow this promising new industry. For example, it is useful to be able to compare how many jobs will be linked to the supply of wind turbine foundations versus the supply of turbine towers or the maintenance and servicing of underwater cables.
The jobs estimates in this Northeast study should not be viewed as the ceiling for the offshore wind industry. Europe already has well more than 75,000 offshore-wind-related jobs. With strong wind resources in the states south of New York, and with proposed projects in places like New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina, there could be an even stronger pipeline of projects leading to more investment in domestic manufacturing and other U.S.-based jobs.
Warren Leon is executive director of the Clean Energy States Alliance, a national nonprofit coalition of state clean energy programs, which helped coordinate the multi-state collaboration among Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island that produced U.S. Job Creation in Offshore Wind.
Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.