July 28, 2020

Meeting the Promise of Offshore Wind Energy: Training the Massachusetts Workforce

Guest Blog By: River Strong, Associate Director, UMass Amherst Clean Energy Extension

Offshore wind energy is about to make a big splash off the shores of Massachusetts. Driven by falling project development costs, climate change legislation, aging and retiring power plants, and calls for greater energy security, the offshore wind industry is making the long-awaited jump from more mature European markets to the eastern shores of the U.S. In fact, the U.S Department of Energy estimates that the wind over U.S. waters has the power potential of more than 2,000 gigawatts (GW) – almost double the nation's current electricity use. But realizing the full promise of this clean, affordable, and secure energy mix will require a skilled workforce ready to meet the challenge.

The Promise and Potential

With its relatively shallow coastal shelf, the eastern seaboard – from Maine to Maryland – is serving as the lead U.S. region in this new industry. The five-turbine, 30-megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm is the country’s first offshore installation and will be followed by many more in coming years.

The American Wind Energy Association reports that there are there are currently 15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development in the country. If those lease areas are fully built out, there is the potential to support about 25 GW of offshore wind capacity of our eastern 

shores by 2030 – enough to power about 13 million homes.  In Massachusetts, as required by a landmark 2016 energy diversity law, the electric utilities have selected two projects—Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind—for long-term contracts to provide 1,600 MW of offshore wind energy.  Legislation enacted in 2018 increases the state’s offshore wind target to 3,200 MW, and recent studies and scenario planning for the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals indicate offshore wind will be a big part of the region’s energy future.

And all that power is ideally located: according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), roughly 40% of the country’s energy-consuming population lives in coastal counties. But it’s important to note the industry is not just about generating clean and affordable energy – it will also support local economies and create professional, well-paying jobs. If more policies similar to those now in Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island are put in place in other eastern coastline states, the offshore wind industry could create 83,000 additional U.S. jobs by 2030. In the Commonwealth alone, a report by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) found that 1,600 MW of offshore wind development will create between 2,000 and 3,000 direct job-years over the next 10 years – and generate a total direct economic impact of between $675 million and $800 million. Looking further ahead, the state has passed legislation that will double the offshore wind target to 3,200 MW by 2035.

Building the Workforce

The challenge and opportunity is this: to meet all of the hopes and expectations, the industry needs an army of workers – educated, trained and skilled professionals and tradespeople at all levels, ready to finance, develop, permit, manufacture, construct, manage, and maintain these complex offshore installations. To help us get there in the Commonwealth, MassCEC has granted more than $2 million to twelve state academic institutions, labor organizations, and other groups to establish workforce training and development programs to support the state’s emerging offshore wind industry. Grant recipients include:

  • Adult Continuing Education – Martha’s Vineyard 
  • A.I.S., Inc.
  • Bristol Community College
  • Cape Cod Community College
  • Fishing Partnership Support Services
  • Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Development Program
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union #223
  • Massachusetts Maritime Academy
  • Pile Drivers and Divers Local 56
  • University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • VINCIVR, Inc.

But the logistics, ingenuity, and skills needed to safely build and maintain these offshore structures in marine environments (and then connect them to the electrical grid) cannot be overestimated. Workers with expertise in a range of disciplines are needed, from steel workers to site managers, electricians to engineers, fisheries experts to financiers, and many others. This is all good news for those entering the workforce for the first time, and for those considering a career transition into the growing offshore energy world. Many professionals who are currently practicing their discipline in other fields are eyeing offshore wind as an emerging, long-term opportunity in the U.S. and see a chance to get in on the ground floor.

The hiring of skilled tradespeople and many white collar positions is already underway: larger companies like Vineyard Wind and Ørsted are on the look-out for the right people, as are the supply chain companies that support the industry directly or indirectly. Those practicing their discipline in other fields may simply need to “skill up” by familiarizing themselves with the concepts, best practices, and vocabulary of offshore wind in order to make themselves attractive to the industry players and/or position themselves as an independent consultant.

Building on its 50-year reputation in the wind energy industry and in partnership with the highly respected Wind Energy Center, the UMass Clean Energy Extension is supporting the development of a Massachusetts workforce for offshore wind by offering a professional online certificate in offshore wind energy for graduates and working professionals. The interdisciplinary program brings together a broad range of fields including technology and engineering, development and finance, supply chain management, marketing, environmental impact and permitting, business logistics, law, and policy. The certificate can be completed in a single year and provides up-to-date industry knowledge, career support, and networking opportunities.

The Future is Bright

The future of offshore wind energy in the U.S. is shining more brightly for the Commonwealth and the entire nation. As Stephen Pike, MassCEC’s CEO, says: “The offshore wind industry is poised to create new renewable energy jobs. With Massachusetts’ proud maritime heritage, robust innovation economy and academic and training assets, the state is very well-positioned to grow a workforce that will contribute to this new American industry for years to come.” Policymakers and educational leaders across the Commonwealth are bringing the power of our state’s esteemed academic institutions, labor groups, educational organizations, and private companies together to build a skilled workforce that will finally help make this clean dream a reality.


Block Island Wind Farm

The Block Island Wind Farm – the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL 40389