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What kinds of jobs will be created by offshore wind farms?


When President Biden talks about America's climate goals, he often frames it around new economic opportunities.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: When I think of climate crisis, I think of jobs.

MARTIN: But what kind of jobs does a carbon-free future provide? NPR's H.J. Mai reports.


H J MAI, BYLINE: Imagine waking up at dawn, working 12-hour shifts every day for 2 1/2 months. All you see around you is nothing but ocean water. It's cold. It's windy. It's physically demanding. Despite those conditions, Maximo Decaba didn't think twice when this opportunity presented itself. And it paid off.

MAXIMO DECABA: With that job, I made enough money to buy my first home.

MAI: Decaba painted the 100-meter-tall towers that jut out above the ocean waves of the first offshore wind farm in the United States. That was five years ago. The offshore wind farm is located near the coast of Rhode Island. It is run by a Danish company called Orsted.

DECABA: Every time I see the commercial or something, I tell everybody that's in the room, I painted that. I was one of the painters there.

MAI: President Biden's goal is to have 30 gigawatts of offshore wind deployed by 2030. That will be enough to power 10 million homes. Right now, there are only two offshore wind farms in operation in the U.S. But the federal government has opened up both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico for exploration. And Jennifer Cullen expects more jobs to come with that. She's in charge of labor relations for Vineyard Wind. The company is developing the first massive, utility-scale project off the coast of Massachusetts.

JENNIFER CULLEN: If you have a family or a dog or responsibilities at home that require you to be home in your bed most nights, it's going to be a tough lifestyle change to be working offshore for several weeks on end. But then you have several weeks home where you are not working.

MAI: The company has already started construction of its mainland facilities, with offshore wind work scheduled to start next year. Vineyard Wind says at least 500 of the anticipated 1,700 jobs during the construction phase will go to union workers. This includes painters like Decaba, as well as many other jobs, such as electricians, crane operators or iron workers. These jobs only require a high school diploma or GED, says Alex Barham, an instructor with labor union Ironworkers 5 in Maryland.

ALEX BARHAM: If they make it through all of the tasks, they pass the exam. Then we put them into our application and then send them out to work from there.

MAI: This type of registered apprenticeship program takes four years to complete. North America's Building Trades Unions likes to refer to it as the other four-year degree.

BARHAM: They're getting on-the-job training. And then for two weeks every six months - so we have two semesters a year - they'll come to class, but they get the majority of their training, actual specifics in the field.

MAI: In offshore wind, some could make six figures if the work is especially challenging or dangerous. Those types of agreements are not commonplace in the renewable energy sector, says Tom Kriger of North America's Building Trades Unions. A study published last year showed that the lack of unions in other green energy sectors, such as solar and onshore wind, has meant lower wages and less job security.

TOM KRIGER: Clean energy jobs are not, by definition, good jobs. And it takes a commitment on the part of the people that are building it, the Orsteds of the world and, you know, their preferences for high-quality training.

MAI: For union painter Maximo Decaba, working in offshore wind changed his life. And that's why he's back working on another wind project. But this time, he's doing the onshore work.

DECABA: I'm not going to go out there this time around. I want other members to experience it.

MAI: Bigger wind turbines out at sea could help reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels. And with hundreds of square miles of untapped potential along American shores, offshore wind is set to grow exponentially in the coming years. H.J. Mai, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVONWHO'S "NONSENSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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