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Building trade leader worries California permit approvals will delay offshore wind

Andrew Meredith, president, State Building Trades Council of California is concerned that California environmentalists’ opposition and the State’s lengthy permit approvals process will delay construction of floating offshore wind farms for years.

Meredith was speaking at the Pacific Offshore Wind Summit on March 30th in San Francisco.

He told AJOT that he does not believe that commencing construction of proposed floating wind farms off the coasts of Humboldt Bay and Moro Bay can begin by developers’ projected goal of 2030. He says California’s lengthy permit approval process will not allow it.

He also expressed the belief that some environmental organizations do not completely support deployment of offshore wind:

“We’ve heard a lot of optimism in the last three days about the potential for offshore wind in California and we hope that there are a lot of things we can accomplish by the State’s 2045 renewable energy goal. We also want to provide a reality about some of the hurdles that we have to overcome as a state to deploy offshore wind on a massive scale. Environmental organizations have not completely embraced the wind generation off the coast of California. We saw this at the State Lands Commission in 2021, when the first offshore wind demonstration projects were proposed off the coast of Vandenburg. We saw the state environmental organizations standing in opposition to offshore wind.”

Andrew Meredith, president, State Building Trades Council of California
Andrew Meredith, president, State Building Trades Council of California

Environmental Assessment

An October 2021, California State Lands Commission (CSLC), FINAL PRELIMINARY ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (PEA) VANDENBERG OFFSHORE WIND ENERGY PROJECTS, discussed the proposed deployment of floating wind turbines off the coast of the Vandenburg Space Force Base. The report noted criteria for permit approval of the floating wind turbines. These are related to fishing interests and Native American tribal concerns and other issues:
“Understanding how … Projects may affect communities and ocean users is a critical part of developing this early assessment. Further, the proposed Projects would be located within the geographic and cultural homelands of several California Native American Tribes who must be consulted pursuant to State law and the CSLC’s adopted policy on Tribal Consultation. The final section of the PEA focuses on a preliminary assessment of considerations relating to communities and ocean users whose livelihoods and sense of social equity could be affected by the proposed Projects, including commercial and recreational fishermen, Tribes with cultural and geographic affiliation to the Project areas, and disadvantaged or vulnerable residents.”

Meredith said: “We can’t be a state that says no to any available technologies. We have to be a state that embraces that ‘can-do’ spirit again … If there is an opportunity to build offshore wind in state waters, we need to build it. The fact that blinking lights off the coast of California can impact the views of rich environmentalists shouldn’t be a barrier to the greater good.”

Meredith said that the California State Building Trades Council is working to streamline permit approvals in California to reduce delays of construction projects including renewable energy projects:

“We as an organization have been working to clear some of those hurdles. We’re doing this by advocating for central permitting so that when a port is looking to do an offshore wind project, they are not dealing with the environmental groups on the local level that are standing in the way of deploying this type of technology. We are also working to streamline permitting in the State of California especially on the transmission side. To make projects easier to build, more cost effective and quicker so we can ramp up deployment of offshore wind.”

Part of this process requires developers and labor unions working together:

“The next steps we see for the deployment of offshore wind in California really involve developer engagements. There are a lot of developers that have been in attendance over the last three days (at the Summit) that have partnered with us already. We have talked about what it is going to take to overcome legislative hurdles … (such as) environmental hurdles (and) the regulatory hurdles. We have had fruitful conversations. We are ready to partner with everyone to get these projects deployed in California. We believe in this tripartite approach to getting things done as industry as labor and as government. We want to build renewable technologies that will take us to that 2045 goal that the Governor has been adamant about reaching and the Legislature has been adamant about reaching.”

Investment in Offshore Wind

He noted that the scope of infrastructure support needed for offshore wind is substantial:

“There’s also substantial infrastructure that we need to deploy in the State of California. There are ports that need substantial investments to be able to play a role in the offshore wind development. There are transmission issues that need to be solved by California to actually get the generated offshore wind capability to the customers. There needs to be a reliable customer base to sell the power to.”

One goal of the construction trades is for project labor agreements that are designed so that all work is done according to prevailing wages, benefits and standards in conjunction with construction labor organizations:

“We need project labor agreements (and) reward developers who engage with the buildings trade councils ... embrace the impact building trades councils can have with local indigenous populations, putting Native Americans to work on these projects and engage them in apprenticeship programs that will help get them to the middle class.”

Meredith said the Building Trades will oppose efforts to bring in segments of wind farms by water from foreign fabrication sites and assemble them offshore. He wants all components made in the United States and preferably in California:

“What we don’t want to see is Lego blocks that are being assembled off the coast by a predominately foreign workforce. That’s an advocacy point that the Governor shares with us and the legislative leaders in California share with us. We want to be able manufacture components in California where labor standards and air quality standards are greater than anywhere in the world and will allow us to reduce our carbon footprint.”

This is good news for U.S. construction workers, U.S. shipbuilders and maritime unions who want American-built ships operated by U.S, mariners to transport components from U.S. ports to the windfarms. There have also been concerns expressed about offshore wind developers on the East Coast evading the Jones Act requirements for U.S. vessels and U.S. crews.

Meredith also emphasized the importance of union apprenticeship programs that can train workers for offshore wind industry jobs. Meredith and building trades officials who spoke at a subsequent panel insisted that union apprenticeship programs will be adequate to train workers for offshore wind work.

However, David Osborne, president, California District Council of Iron Workers, said during the panel discussion that wind developers on the East Coast had not always accepted U.S. construction standards. Osborne said that developers had changed standards and not been consistent. He charged that the ulterior motive was claiming the differences between developer standards and American union and U.S. standards was designed to disqualify union workers and hire non-union workers.

An added problem that has surfaced with U.S. shipbuilders is that some U.S. builders refuse to accept blueprints and plans specified in metrics and insist that foreign designs be redrawn in feet and inches adding to costs and delays.

To avoid these problems, Meredith wants apprenticeship programs and standards to be in place well before construction: “We want the apprenticeship programs to be in place before the offshore wind and other renewable energy programs are deployed.”

Meredith said that the State of California’s goals of embracing renewable energy has not fully considered the huge new renewable energy investments that will be needed. This will also require changes in the California permit approval process to accommodate a renewable energy mobilization. This will include solar, wind, battery, and pumped storage projects:

“This will require 6 gigawatts of electricity per year brought onto the grid for the next twenty-five years to make that happen. That’s a massive investment in electrical generation. This creates new opportunities for communities that are trying to make changes … By 2045, the State of California needs to triple the electrification in the state. At the same time, this means bringing offline nuclear power, unfortunately, and having natural gas power plants shut down. We believe that until we have true renewable energy sustainability, natural gas has a part to play.”

One of the beneficiary counties is Humboldt County in Northern California where new wind farms will be built off the coast:

“Humboldt County … will play a huge role in off-shore wind development. This is a portion of our state that was decimated by the Spotted Owl controversy that ended the logging industry in that region. The offshore wind deployment creates new pathways for people in Humboldt to gain access to the middle-class.”

Workers in the fossil fuel industry may be able to redeploy their skills for offshore wind: “This also creates opportunities for workers who are currently engaged in the fossil fuel sector. So, when the first offshore wind turbines are built in California, they will be built by the same laborers, ironworkers, electrical workers, operating engineers that are already working and trained in other spaces such as fossil fuels. Offshore wind allows us to take construction to a bigger model. We are ramping up training for offshore wind in anticipation of future workforce needs. “

Meredith noted that California has been slow to build new water projects at a time when there is a growing impact to the California economy from droughts. The delays in water project construction represent a warning about California agencies being unwilling or unable to fast-track permitting approvals for renewable and other infrastructure projects in the face of fires, drought, and a growing climate change emergency.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis

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