Washington, D.C., Local 70 members working for signatory contractor L.E. Myers Co. performed the on-shore transmission work for the first offshore wind farm in federal waters, as Dominion Energy’s two-turbine pilot project off the Virginia Coast began operations in October.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam looks out during a tour of Dominion Energy’s test wind farm 27 miles off the state’s coast. Photo provided by Dominion Energy.
It could be another step in the IBEW securing work on proposed offshore wind projects throughout the United States, as the federal government and many coastal states turn to the technology to meet clean energy goals and statutory requirements.
The Business Development Department, which has been working with district vice presidents to build relationships within the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry for nearly six years, is optimistic it will lead to more work on larger projects through longtime partner Dominion and others.
The electrical giant hopes to begin work on an expansion of the pilot project in 2024 that provides energy to about 660,000 homes as part of the Virginia state government’s ambitious goals to increase clean-air energy. Most Dominion utility employees in the commonwealth are members of Richmond, Va., Local 50.
“Dominion employs our utility members and it’s been a long, fruitful partnership for both parties,” said Jon Rosenberger, an international representative in the Business Development Department. “The company has worked with many of our signatory contractors on previous projects. Its leaders understand we have the skill level to do substation, transmission, interconnections and even inside work related to wind. All we really need to learn is the survival skill set out over the water.”
Added Fourth District Vice President Gina Cooper: “The IBEW is grateful for the long and respectful relationship we have with Dominion, which has resulted in many work opportunities for our members. We look forward to continuing this relationship on their commercial offshore wind projects.”
Business Development Director Ray Kasmark made building inroads into the offshore wind energy market a priority when he was named director in 2015. Offshore wind farms have provided electricity to Europe for 50 years, but they are just getting off the ground in the United States.
Before the Virginia project, the only other project to be successfully completed was a five-turbine development near Rhode Island’s Block Island that opened in 2016. About 50 members of Providence Local 99 performed construction work on land before the parts were sent to sea. Deepwater Wind, the project’s lead developer, was acquired by Danish-based Orsted in 2019.
“Just looking at the scope and breadth of what was planned, it was something we had to get involved in as early as possible so we could increase our chances to capture the work,” Kasmark said.
Soon after, the IBEW joined the Business Network for Offshore Wind, which connects groups looking to work in the industry with some of the primary companies like Orsted, nearly all of which are based in Europe. The organization is also committed to developing a supply chain.
“The importance of the IBEW is helping the European companies understand where you fit into the U.S. structure and making sure they understand your capabilities,” said Liz Burdock, the president and chief operating officer of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. “These are high-voltage electrical lines. Really, [the IBEW] is the best-trained workforce we have in the United States to work on these projects.”
Dominion Energy opened its two-turbine wind farm earlier this year and plans to start work on a much larger project in 2024. The IBEW has a long relationship with the company and is working to secure work for members on the project.
Photo provided by Dominion Energy.
Being part of the Block Island and Virginia projects allowed the IBEW to build inroads in the off-shore wind industry, but it does not guarantee future work. International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said members need to work to elect politicians who will ensure American-based, union workers are part of projects going forward.
The election of Joe Biden as president in November was a step in that direction. The Interior Department has jurisdiction over projects in federal waters. The IBEW and other trade unions were helped on the Block Island project by union-supportive politicians in local and state government in Rhode Island.
“I know the Interior Department in a Biden administration will be fair to the IBEW and other unions when it comes to projects in federal waters,” Stephenson said. “Now, we must continue to elect state and local leaders who will do the same thing. This is an industry ready to take off and we must take steps to ensure our brotherhood is not behind.”
Orsted was the engineering, procurement and construction lead for the Virginia initial project. It has not reached an agreement to work with Dominion on the larger project scheduled to begin in 2024 but is involved in several other proposed projects in American waters.
In November, Orsted announced it had reached an agreement with the North America’s Building Trades Unions, of which the IBEW is a member, to work in collaboration with 14 U.S. construction unions as it develops more projects in American waters. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, a member of Portland, Ore., Local 125, helped broker the deal.
“Orsted is the major player,” Kasmark said. “To get this done with them sets up all the crafts for a major market share in this industry. Developers can look at this and say, ‘Let’s go with them.’”
Stephenson also applauded the agreement, adding he was grateful for Shuler’s leadership on the issue.
“I’m pleased that an industry leader like Orsted recognizes the vital role the IBEW and other trade unions will play in off-shore wind development in the United States and I’m confident it will lead to more opportunities for our brothers and sisters. To have the effort led by one of our own in Liz Shuler makes this deal especially satisfying,” he said.
Trade unions are structured much differently in Europe, so educating foreign companies about the IBEW’s role has been crucial, Kasmark said.
Rosenberger has been the lead contact on the Dominion project because Virginia is part of the Fourth District, which he services. But he noted the move to garner the work has been a department-wide effort in coordination with district vice presidents, and he’s confident it can lead to work in other areas.
“We’ve had meetings with Dominion about partnering not just on this project, but in solar, energy storage, electric vehicle charging stations and a couple of on-shore wind projects,” he said. “We just have a really good relationship with them.”
Recently, IBEW leaders in New Jersey revealed they are working to secure work for hundreds of members at the proposed New Jersey Wind Port, which is scheduled to be built near where the Delaware River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The IBEW also is pushing to be involved in the Skipjack Windfarm off the Maryland coast, with construction tentatively scheduled to start in 2022. Orsted is the lead developer on both projects.
“Orsted believes the best workers are always the best trained workers and we are proud to have earned a strong record for working with skilled union labor at the country’s first offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm, where more than 300 union workers were employed,” David Hardy, the chief operation officer of Orsted Offshore North America, said when announcing the trade unions agreement.
“We appreciate NATBU’s cooperation and the collaborative approach our union partners have brought to this endeavor and look forward to learning from them and working with them on this groundbreaking partnership.”