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Wind energy huge economic, environmental boost for NJ


It’s about time. Energy producers, organized labor and environmentalists have fought too long over fossil fuel energy production and pipelines. Now, because of legislation pushed by State Senate President Steve Sweeney and boosted by Gov. Phil Murphy, we have all come together to support an ambitious wind generation plan.

Under an executive order signed by Murphy, New Jersey will build 3,500 megawatts of wind power by 2030, putting the state at the forefront of this energy generation.  In fact, according to the governor, New Jersey will soon become a worldwide leader.

That’s important not just because it will generate enough energy to power 1.5 million homes in New Jersey — more than 40 percent of all housing units in the state — but because of the good-paying, technologically advanced jobs it will provide. Few realize the wind power is already a major job creator and New Jersey has badly lagged in this burgeoning industry. More American workers now have wind energy jobs than at coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric plants, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

That’s why Sweeney is right on the mark when he says the plan is not just to place windmills in the ocean, but also to jump-start a wind energy manufacturing industry in New Jersey. There are already over 500 factories across 41 states. Now that New Jersey is moving forward on the largest wind power capacity build in the nation, the industrial base will soon be a significant job creator here too.

For a state like so many others that has moved to a more service sector-based economy from a manufacturing one, wind power can bring back employment opportunities thought long gone. And with it will mean a new generation of highly trained workers. That’s where organized labor is so important. Rather than sitting back waiting for the jobs to appear, it is our responsibility to train the workers for these highly skilled jobs — in manufacturing, construction and operations. 

Already unions are gearing up. Training must be done in real-world facilities on the newest models of equipment, especially those with advanced technologies. We cannot allow a model where training is an afterthought or worse.  New Jersey will not thrive in that industrial setting.

What’s more, building a new industrial base in New Jersey that is also environmentally friendly makes this a win all around and is what unites labor and environmentalists. For what is still a fledgling energy provider, wind power produced more than $7 billion in public health savings in 2016 by cutting the pollutants that create smog and other air hazards, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. 

Growing a new manufacturing base while at the same time dramatically improving public health is why Gov. Murphy’s ambitious pledge to move the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2050 is so smart. Building off-shore wind, solar and energy storage facilities will dramatically change the economic dynamics of the state and establish New Jersey as the Silicon Valley of clean energy.  Let’s get to work.

Greg Lalevee is business manager of the Operating Engineers Local 825.

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