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Birth of a new base industry in New Bedford

It took a century for the epicenter of the whaling industry to shift from Nantucket to New Bedford, and it took half a century for whaling to give way to textiles here.

Things happen a lot faster now, thanks to technology, instant communications and global competition, and by the time this decade is over, the US offshore wind industry will have evolved from a concept to a base energy industry along the East Coast.

Listen to New Bedford Economic Development Director Derek Santos (above) and Wind Energy Center Director Paul Vigeant (below) talk about New Bedford’s position at the center of a new base industry that will supply vast amounts of clean, renewable energy and employ an estimated 43,000 workers by 2030.

Experienced marine workforce gives New Bedford the edge

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It’s not just that New Bedford is located only half a day’s sale from the site of the new offshore wind farms that will be built just south of Martha’s Vineyard over the next decade, providing Massachusetts more than 10 percent of its power needs.  And it’s not just that the Port of New Bedford is home to the nation’s only Marine Commerce Terminal built specifically for the needs of the new industry.

New Bedford is also home to thousands of workers who have experience working in a marine environment and access to training programs that are already in place or being developed, A partnership involving Bristol Community College, UMass Dartmouth and the Mass. Maritime Academy is studying the types of jobs and skills that will be required and will help lay the groundwork for an integrated training program that can serve the new industry…and provide hundreds of new, good-paying jobs.

An ideal workforce will have “have this blend of technical skills that you can do in a marine environment,” said Paul Vigeant, the vice president for workforce development at Bristol Community College and the director of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center. “That differentiates New Bedford from any place in North America. . . .We have the individuals with the trade skills that can be applied in a marine environment.”

“It’s one thing to know how to fix an electrical machine. It’s another thing to be able to to fix it on  top of a 35-story building in the middle of the ocean.”

 

Government, private industry work closely to launch offshore wind

AWEAElected leaders and government administrators get a lot of criticism for erecting obstacles as businesses look to expand and compete in new markets.

Not a lot of that kind of talk at the American Wind Energy Association’s fall conference in Rhode Island, which is happening today and tomorrow. Nearly 600 attendees have heard speaker after speaker discuss the close collaboration among the founders of the new offshore wind energy industry and the federal and state agency leaders and elected leaders in creating a new industry, which is ready to begin producing power at a small wind farm developed by Deepwater Wind off Block Island and which is looking to new markets along the East Coast.

(At right, Bristol Community College’s Anthony Ucci, associate vice president for academic affairs and a designer of the college’s 32-credit wind energy certificate program, was among the nearly 600 people at the AWEA conference’s first day).

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has been a leading environmental leader, and he cautioned that the new wind industry faces great competition from a fossil field industry that effectively receives a $200 billion subsidy each year and is fighting hard against renewable sources of energy that threaten that subsidy.

“That’s a pretty big headwind,” said Whitehouse said, urging a fair accounting of the actual cost of energy produced by fossil fuel.

And it was great to hear a New York State official,  John Rhodes, president of that state’s energy research and development authority, speak in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announced intention to require that half of the Empire State’s power production come from renewable sources, including offshore wind, by 2030.

It was enough to make a citizen of Massachusetts, which in August enacted legislation requiring the state’s utilities to purchase 1,600MW of electricity from wind farms to be built off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, proud and optimistic about the future of power production in the state.

Projects this big require partnership between private industry and federal and state government. That is happening hear, thanks largely to good will and common purpose on all sides to find new, environmentally friendly sources of power.

 

Offshore wind will help propel resurgent New Bedford

There’s a good interview with Mayor Jon Mitchell in CommonWealth magazine’s fall issue about the resurgence of New Bedford, and offshore wind was a big part of the conversation.

Given that many in Massachusetts equate offshore wind with the mothballed Cape Wind project, the focus by CommonWealth, an influential issue-centered publication of the public policy think tank MassINC, on offshore wind as part of the New Bedford turnaround story constitutes a recognition that the industry has become an important piece of the Massachusetts energy and economic development future.

Gov. Charlie Baker in August signed an energy bill into law that will require public utilities over the next decade to buy 1,600 MW of power — that’s about 10 percent of the state’s entire use — from offshore wind farms being built 15 to 25 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. And the three energy development firms that will bid to supply that power in a series of auctions that will award contracts based on lowest cost for power produced have agreed to use the $113 million New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal to serve the new industry. Meanwhile, Bristol Community College’s vice president for workforce development, Paul Vigeant (who also serves as director of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center), will work with experts at UMass Dartmouth and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy to assess workforce needs and assets for the new industry.

Mayor Mitchell started out like a lot of people, with the sense that the offshore wind industry was Cape Wind and nothing else. But like others, he has learned about offshore wind and recognizes its great potential for New England, for Massachusetts…and for New Bedford. Here’s what he said:

“Early on in my administration, I, like a lot of other people, just associated the offshore wind industry with Cape Wind. That was the thing that was in the news, and I didn’t know much about the growth of the industry in northern Europe. But as I started to dig into it, it made all the sense in the world to put eggs into that basket because of the geographic advantages we have. I distinctly remember reading a Department of Energy report that said 25 percent of the nation’s wind reserves lie in the area south of Martha’s Vineyard going down the Eastern Seaboard. We’re the closest industrial seaport. We’ve got the deep water harbor. Now we have the marine terminal that is perfect for the wind industry because of its load capacity. And we have this seafaring workforce that is second to none in America. Offshore wind is a way to diversify our industry mix on the waterfront.”

 

New Bedford looks to reap lots of good-paying jobs

Paul Vigeant Europe has a head start of more than two decades on the United States in the development of offshore wind, and backers of offshore wind here expect to learn from Europe’s experience.
In the first six months of 2016, Europe installed more than 4,000MW of offshore wind power to the European grid, bringing the total amount of installed power to more than 11,500MW. (Compare that to the 1,600MW that will be built of the Massachusetts coast during the next decade).
US developers — who will use the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal during the installation of the turbines off Martha’s Vineyard — plan to benefit from technological improvements that will reduce costs. Bigger, more efficient turbines mean that fewer will have to be built to provide power equivalent to that of those being built in Europe.
New Bedford, of course, is in a prime position with a the marine commerce terminal being located near the Vineyard and it being the only one in the country built especially to handle the tremendous size and weight of new wind turbine components.
And southeastern Massachusetts, especially New Bedford — home to the most lucrative fishing port in the country — can provide thousands of workers who have experience working in a marine environment.
Internationally, the median wage of offshore wind employees with five years experience is more than $88,000 per year. That’s good news for workers in greater New Bedford.
New Bedford Wind Energy Center Director Paul Vigeant, above, vice president for workforce development at Bristol Community College, predicts that lots of good-paying, permanent jobs will be available in maintaining and operating the wind turbines that will be built here in coming years. He expects entry-level wages of at least $18-$20 per hour to start.