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Longshoremen’s Union Uses Hardball Tactics to Target Offshore Wind

It looks like Bidenomics brought to life: Union labor and green tech companies signing a landmark agreement to work together building carbon-zero windpower for American consumers.

But in a classic case of “no good deed goes unpunished,” one recalcitrant labor union is risking all this work.

When Vineyard Wind was planning its 62-turbine wind project 15 miles south of Martha’s Vinyard, it reached an agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council. Vineyard Wind said the deal would save ratepayers $1.4 billion over 20 years while creating “roughly 500 family-sustaining union jobs.”

“The signing of this Project Labor Agreement sets the standard for Offshore Wind and other renewable energy projects across our country,” said Frank Callahan, the president of the council. “We can Build Back Better with renewable energy and create union jobs at the same time.”

Meanwhile, Denmark-based Orsted, the world’s largest offshore wind developer, had a more ambitious East Coast wind power plan. Its South Fork Wind project will build a dozen turbines that will generate 130 megawatts of electricity off the coast of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Orsted hopes to power 70,000 Long Island homes once the project becomes operational.

Orsted’s National Offshore Wind Agreement (NOWA) with North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) was greeted with great fanfare.

Signed by more than a dozen international union presidents, NOWA caused NABTU President Sean McGarvey to hail it as revolutionary. “This partnership will not only expand tens of thousands of career opportunities for them to flourish in the energy transition but also lift up even more people into the middle class. The constant drumbeat of public support for unions being important to maintain and build the middle class helped secure this momentous achievement.”

But now, these projects face delays and rising costs due to demands for a piece of the project pie from the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). The ILA is a union notorious for its hardball — and sometimes illegal — tactics. A decade ago, the president of one of its East Coast locals, 1235 in New Jersey, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for extorting money from his own members using “actual and threatened force, violence and fear,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

And just last year, the president of ILA-1740 in Puerto Rico was busted as part of a RICO Act prosecution of an extortion scheme.

In this case, the ILA uses accusations of union busting and labor violations to slow these two major wind projects. For example, work briefly halted at the Vineyard Wind project earlier this year when ILA Local 1413 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, complained that the project’s agreement with the building trades council set a bad precedent. At issue is whether ILA or the tradesmen will operate forklifts and massive cranes unloading turbines.

And Orsted is facing pressure from international unions backing complaints from the ILA in New London, Connecticut. The union alleges Orsted refuses to respect longshore worker jurisdiction regarding wind turbine operations.

While Vineyard Wind officials declined to go on record, Orsted decried the union’s complaints as counterproductive.

“This is a jurisdictional dispute between two unions, and we remain hopeful that they can resolve the issue,” said Allison Ziogas, Orsted’s head of U.S. labor relations. “South Fork Wind is putting more than 50 local union members across seven unions to work at State Pier in New London, including the local International Longshoremen’s Association that has led the offloading and loadout of offshore wind components for months. … As always, our priorities are safety, maximizing roles for local union workers, and keeping South Fork Wind’s schedule on track.”

Orsted and Vineyard Wind say they’ve carefully followed federal law in the pre-hire agreement process. Now, they say, it’s time for the Biden administration to step in as a matter of law and support the zero-carbon power built with union labor that President Biden has promoted.

While union strikes or job walk-offs get plenty of press, they also cost millions. The Labor Department estimated striking workers accounted for 7.4 million lost man-hours this year. Most of those involve the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes.

With strikes come construction delays and increased costs. Orsted leadership reported a $2.3 billion loss through August in the United States due to supply-chain issues and interest rate increases. The company declined to say how much it lost in the ILA’s recent one-day walk-off.

Labor experts like Sean Higgins at the Competitive Enterprise Institute note that private-sector unions are shrinking, not growing. That is one reason they should pick their fights carefully. He said just 6 percent of private-sector jobs are unionized, and overall, union members hit an all-time low of 10.1 percent of the workforce in 2022.

“As the economy has grown, the union movement hasn’t grown along with it,” Higgins said. “As new industries have sprung up, unions have struggled to organize them.

“What the union movement has yet to try is to radically rethink how it operates and organizes,” he said. “Until it seriously tries to listen to those workers and find out what they want, it will continue to struggle.”

McGarvey came to the defense of Orsted. “Their investment in, and commitment to, the communities in which they have begun operations will provide local residents generational opportunities to participate in the emergence of an industry and technologies that will be a crucial part of our domestic energy future.

“It is deeply regretful that another labor organization, ill-prepared to meet the moment, has instead sought to undermine union employment opportunities for our members,” McGarvey said. “A safe and reasonable path forward has been presented to the ILA. We call upon this organization to immediately end their threats and obstruction and to work in good faith to bring this dispute to an end.”

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POINT: Reaping the Whirlwind

For another point of view see: COUNTERPOINT: Wind Turbine Project Endangers Wildlife

This past weekend, my wife and I went down to Margate, New Jersey, for a friend’s birthday party.  Driving on the Atlantic City Expressway, we passed a huge billboard that screamed: STOP OFFSHORE WIND.  Below that, in somewhat smaller letters, it said: Never Experience the Jersey Shore the Same Way Again.  Pictured was an array of wind turbines stretching from one edge of the billboard to the other.

Together we marveled at the mentality that wants to preserve the scenic beauty of the seashore until the planet turns into a cosmic cinder and there’s no scenic beauty anywhere on the planet, or anyone to see it.

As we neared the coast and drove through a town called Northfield, we saw a campaign sign on someone’s lawn touting Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew’s opposition to offshore wind farms in New Jersey.  It seemed odd to see a campaign sign in August 2023 with the next election—a party primary—the better part of a year away in the spring of 2024.

Then this morning I called up the Washington Post on my computer, and there was a lead article proclaiming: “The beach town that could decide the future of wind power on the East Coast.”  That community is Ocean City, New Jersey, often called “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”

It turns out that a Danish company has received federal permission to build a wind farm 15 miles off the Jersey coast, but an organization called Protect Our Coast, billing itself as “grassroots,” is fighting the project, hoping to throw up so many legal delays that the Danish company, Orsted, will finally decide it’s just too expensive to continue and kill the project.

This is what happened to a wind farm proposed off the Massachusetts coast after billionaire beachfront owners like the Kennedy Family and William Koch plowed millions of dollars into opposing the project.

New Jersey’s Protect Our Coast may well include a lot of locals, but also has the backing of the Caesar Rodney Institute that regularly opposes offshore wind projects and has ties to both fossil fuel interests and “dark money,” donors to which don’t have to be identified.

Admittedly, oceanfront communities like Ocean City depend almost exclusively on summer tourism to survive economically.  But the wind turbines are going to be built 15 miles offshore.  To an average person standing at sea level, the visible horizon is about 3 miles away.  Years ago, I worked on an oil tanker.  Our radar, mounted at the top of the mast of this massive ship, reached out to a radius of 12 miles.  Turbines 15 miles offshore might be visible because they’re pretty tall, but they’re not going to spoil the view.

Other arguments for opposing this project include claims that the turbines will kill whales.  Birds I kind of get; they fly around and maybe get whacked by a turbine blade.  But whales?  Seriously?  Opponents also claim that the project will ruin fishing and clamming, but it’s not like these turbines are going to take up a lot of space, leaving too little for the fish and clams.

Meanwhile, I wonder how the whales and fish and clams are going to hold up as the ocean temperature continues to rise.  Earlier this summer, the ocean temperature off Florida reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Oh, well, that’s Florida, right?  We’re a thousand miles farther north.  Our whales and fish and clams will be just fine, won’t they?

But the ocean isn’t just warming.  It’s also rising.  Very recently, there has been dire evidence of rising sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico that are threating New Orleans and the Gulf Coast with disasters much greater than Hurricane Katrina.  In Italy, Venice is flooded almost constantly now.  The ice caps are shrinking at both poles, and glaciers all over the world are receding at unprecedented rates.  Where do you imagine all that newly released water is going?

And as alarming as that is, sea levels in New Jersey are rising at a rate more than double the global average.  I wonder how the seashore tourist economy is going to do when storms that rip up the Jersey Shore like Hurricane Sandy did in 2012 start happening every other year.  I wonder how business will be at the boardwalk pizza shops and miniature golf courses and amusement parks when the boardwalk is washed away so many times that no one is willing to rebuild it, and insurance companies will no longer insure seafront properties, and the seashore is a mile or two inland from where it is now.

But that’s just Chicken Little hysteria, surely. So let’s not build any more offshore wind farms.  Not in New Jersey.  Not in Massachusetts.  Not in North Carolina or any other coastal region in the United States of America.  Let’s not support solar power.  Let’s not develop thermal.  Let’s not be willing to pay the cost of avoiding global disaster.  Let’s not risk jeopardizing the economy.  Let’s just keep burning fossil fuels and enjoying our thriving economy and our beautiful beach vistas and our fishing and our clamming until life on Planet Earth ceases to be viable.

Global warming, after all, is just a liberal hoax, isn’t it?  Fake news.  Thousand-year floods and five hundred-year forest fires twice a year are just the normal fluctuations of the planet.  Perfectly natural.  Like the Ice Ages.  Nothing to worry about.  Rich folks like the Kennedys and the Kochs can, after all, buy their way out of anything.  Maybe they’re all expecting to go to Mars with Elon Musk.

There is one small bright spot in all of this doom-and-gloom.  Forty-eight years ago, I was pulled over by cop in Maple Shade, New Jersey, who told me to get out of the state and not come back.  Seriously.  Ever since then, I’ve wanted to live long enough to witness New Jersey disappear beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, but I never dreamed I’d actually get to see it happen.

Now I’m not so sure.

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In Louisiana’s Oil Rig Country, a Mobile Wind Farm Giant Emerges

“We’re going to need a lot more American ships, so I hope everyone’s ready to keep working.”

That was the message this week from David Hardy, group executive vice president at Danish energy company Ørsted, whose company has commissioned the construction of a massive water vessel that can act as a high technology support vessel for regional wind farms wind farm.

Ørsted, along with Boston-based energy provider Eversource, have tapped Louisiana-based Edison Chouest to build the ultra-modern ship to help ferry renewable wind power into critical Northeast markets. The corporations say the craft will lead the U.S. into a new era of clean energy production.

Company leaders gathered at the Chouest shipyard in Terrebonne Parish on Tuesday to offer a glimpse at the Eco Edison, the first such wind-farming vessel purpose-built in the United States.

Its construction is taking place in an area of the world well-known for its high levels of oil drilling and rig activity. The federal government states that around 3,200 oil and gas structures of varying sizes “remain active” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Upon its construction, the 260-foot-long ship will have taken about 500,000 man-hours to produce. It is expected to sail to its home base in Port Jefferson, New York, in 2024.

On Tuesday Hardy touted what he said were the promising benefits to vessels like the Eco Edison, claiming that the growing reliance on renewable energies like wind allows the U.S. “greater energy independence from adversarial countries like China and Russia.”

“Wind energy is an increasingly important part of America’s overall energy mix, and we’re proud to be building, new energy projects that will power, millions of US homes and businesses,” he said.

The ship will be crewed by around five dozen workers drawn from the northeast region to which it will be providing power. The onboard technicians, who the company says will work a two weeks on/two weeks off schedule, will have access to on-ship entertainment and recreation facilities including a gym and a movie theater.

The ship will essentially function as an at-sea headquarters and base of operations for the works servicing and maintaining around 200 wind turbines off the New England coast.

“This shipyard and this vessel are living proof that the American offshore wind industry is creating jobs today,” Hardy said at the event.

Renewable energy at present comprises just over one-fifth of all electricity generation sources in the United States, according to data from the Department of Energy.  Fossil fuels—overwhelmingly coal and natural gas—make up 60 percent of the U.S. energy profile.

Wind, meanwhile, represents nearly half of the total U.S. renewable electricity capture, with 10.2 percent of renewable energy coming from wind farms. Hydroelectric comes in second at 6.2 percent.

House Majority Leader and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise said at the event that regarding the U.S. energy profile, “it’s not a question of which source of energy we need.”

“The world is going to need more energy, and we’re going to need all forms of energy,” he said, arguing that the U.S. has “been at the front end of innovations” including those in renewable energy sources.

Beyond its role in next-gen energy technology, Ørsted has touted the numerous technological advantages the ship possesses to carry out its duties, including a “motion-compensated gangway” that will permit crews easy and safe access to wind turbines. A “daughter” ship will also be onboard to ensure easy ferrying of crews from the vessel to work locations.

Mike Ausere, a development vice president with Eversource, said at Tuesday’s event that the Eco Edison was just “one of the many ships needed for offshore wind.” He argued the project “represents the beginning of a renewed era of American global economic leadership.”

Hardy, meanwhile, optimistically predicted the ongoing creation of renewable energy jobs for many years down the road.

“We’re putting people to work today, and we’ll put the next generation of workers to work as well,” he said.

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