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The Port of New Bedford is at the center of new, national offshore wind industry

It was a big summer for the offshore wind industry and the Port of New Bedford. We asked Paul Vigeant, managing director of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center, to put the summer’s events into perspective and look ahead to what New Bedford can expect as the industry develops.Paul Vigeant

Let’s start by talking about recent events related to offshore wind, starting with the legislation passed in June.

The passage of the diversified energy legislation by the Massachusetts Legislature, [which was signed by] Gov. Charlie Baker, fundamentally starts the offshore wind industry in the United States. It creates a market an
d it requires the utility companies to purchase wind energy-generated electricity.  That legislation essentially starts the offshore wind industry in the United States.

Soon after, Gov. Baker, other high-level state officials and three offshore wind developers were in New Bedford. Why were they here?
Within a [month] of signing the legislation that creates the offshore wind industry in the United States, there was a significant event in New Bedford. All three of the lease holders who have the right to develop the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area signed a letter of intent with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, which owns the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, which is purpose-built for the deployment of offshore wind devices. They collectively agreed to put up $5.7 million for the right to the terminal if they are selected as the provider of tha
t offshore wind energy.

Less than a week later, the federal government made headlines with offshore wind. Could you talk about that?

Good things happen in threes. So the third big announcement was a joint announcement by Secretary [Sally] Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and Secretary Ernie Muniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy. They jointly announced the national offshore wind strategy and they chose to make that announcement here in Massachusetts, which in and of itself shows the importance of this issue on a national scale….

In that event, it was remarkable how many times the Port of New Bedford was referenced not only by Mayor Mitchell, who did a good job to promote New Bedford, as he always does…. But also, Secretary Muniz mentioned it. Steve Pike, who is the head of the Clean Energy Center here in Massachusetts, mentioned New Bedford, the port and the infrastructure. Secretary Jewel mentioned it. Sen.
Markey mentioned it.

It was very encouraging to be in the audience and hear so many national leaders talk about not only this national offshore wind strategy, which the United States finally has, but to hear them say how prominent a role New Bedford will pay in this new and emerging industry. It was a terrific day for New Bedford.

What does this all mean for for New Bedford?

You’re already seeing a number of roles for New Bedford in the offshore wind industry. Not long after the announcement by the governor that the game is on [by signing new energy legislation]  you started to see research vessels using New Bedford and they will be using New Bedford for the next 12 to 18 months to supply their boats…. They will need fuel. They will need provisioning. So the first pop for New Bedford all be survey vessels, research vessels using the Marine Commerce Terminal.

What is the biggest potential for New Bedford with offshore wind?
The real big play for offshore wind is called operation and maintenance. Once you build and install these towers, they’re going to be there for 20 to 30 years so you need routine maintenance every day on these towers. That represents the highest number of jobs in any of the phases [of offshore wind development]. It represents the longest number of years committed to that number of jobs in any of the phases, whether it is assembly, deployment or construction. We are very well positioned to be the operations and maintenance center for offshore wind.

Why are we well positioned as an operations and maintenance center for offshore wind?
Having the right workforce, the right skill sets, the right workers with the right training is so important for offshore wind. New Bedford has a competitive advantage in that it has partnered with Bristol Community College, which for over a decade has been offering as part of one of its engineering program a wind energy certificate. We’re very serious at BCC about renewable energy and reducing the carbon footprint. We just built a zero impact building and we provide. training that will lead you to an associate’s degree with a concentration in wind energy.

How does offshore wind relate to the fishing industry?

Another important aspect about the training required for the offshore wind industry is [having] a blend of technical skills that can you do in a marine environment. And that differentiates New Bedford over anywhere in North America.… Because of our robust seafood industry and our fishing industry…we have the individuals who have the trade skills that are applied in the marine environment. It’s one thing, for instance, to know how to fix an electrical machine. It’s another thing to be able to fix it on top of a 35-story building in the middle of the ocean.

So you envision that individuals who now work in commercial fishing will be employed by offshore wind?

The number of days that fishermen are now limited to makes them available to augment their wages by working as operations and maintenance technicians in the offshore wind industry. So i envision a day when fish harvesters work a full schedule harvesting scallops and other fish products, and when the boats are in port because they’ve exhausted their licensing days, those people can find jobs in a minute working in the offshore wind industry as production technicians and electronic technicians.

How will these jobs pay?

The production jobs in offshore wind are very stable jobs, but they are  also very well paying jobs, [which carry benefits]. I think you’re looking at entry level production wages at the $18 to $20 per hour range, which is for New Bedford a very attractive and livable wage.