Connecticut’s offshore wind energy revolution builds movement for Green New Deal
Wind turbines standing off the Atlantic coast. An offshore wind revolution is underway in Connecticut that will not only fight climate change but also create good jobs for port communities. | Michael Dwyer / AP

Opportunities for developing offshore wind power along the U.S. east coast have the possibility of playing a significant role in generating future sustainable energy production. These renewable energy projects could replace fossil fuel-generated energy, which contributes to global warming and climate change. And according to the latest report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), such projects are needed as soon as possible.

The IPCC says that global warming and its impacts on society and the planet are already “baked into our future.” Scientists estimate that the Earth’s temperature will pass the redline established at the Paris Climate Conference much earlier than originally expected. Climate change and global warming are happening right now and will become worse over time.

The Connecticut ports of Bridgeport and New London are scheduled to play significant roles in developing and maintaining offshore wind farms. But a movement is happening not only in those areas allocated to Connecticut’s wind power projects but also in federal offshore areas approved for wind power projects stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Connecticut’s wind revolution

Bridgeport and New London provide deep-water ports without obstacles to navigation (like bridges). These conditions are necessary for the large and very tall ocean-going vessels that will carry wind turbines, cranes, and other equipment and supplies needed to construct the wind farms.

An example is the 472-foot-long Charybdis, a “wind turbine installation vessel” currently under construction. The Charybdis will operate out of New London and build wind turbines for the Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind projects south of the Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts.

Bridgeport has been selected as the port city for the Park City Wind Project, an 804-megawatt offshore wind farm approved by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). A press release issued by DEEP indicates that when fully developed this project will supply about 14% of Connecticut’s total electrical energy needs.

It is estimated that 2,800 “direct full-time employment years” will be created by the project. The developer, Vineyard Wind, is required by the agreement with Connecticut DEEP to pay “no less than the prevailing wage and to negotiate in good faith for a mutually agreeable labor agreement”

The Park City Wind Project will provide approximately $890 million in economic development to Bridgeport and the project’s supply chain. This is in addition to the port facilities being developed at the State Pier in New London to support the development of offshore wind power.

Marcus Brown, with Park City Wind, reported that offshore wind-related work will take place at Barnum Landing (in Bridgeport Harbor) over two years as a staging area for transition pieces used to build the wind farms and then for a further 25 years as an operations and maintenance facility for the farms.

The City of New London recently signed a host community agreement with Orsted and Eversource (a joint venture known as North East Offshore) to develop State Pier in New London to serve as a port hub for offshore wind projects in New England waters and possibly for areas off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

A spokesperson for Eversource indicated that the improved State Pier facilities will provide support for development for the following offshore wind farms: Revolution Wind, South Fork Wind, and Sunrise Wind. It is also possible that State Pier in New London could serve other wind farm developments from up and down the coast.

The agreement with the City of New London provides payments based upon energy production from the farms. New London has been impacted by activities at the State Pier while it does not receive tax payments from the state-owned facility. Instead, it had received PILOT payments from the State of Connecticut under the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Program, which the City has claimed is inadequate.

The Revolution Wind Project is expected to produce 304 megawatts of wind-powered energy for Connecticut and 405 megawatts for Rhode Island. According to Orsted and Eversource, project developers, construction of the turbines may begin in 2023 and could generate 1,200 jobs in Rhode Island and Connecticut during its construction phase. Additional jobs will be required to operate and maintain the facility going forward.

Connecticut’s ports are now being upgraded to play major roles in developing and maintaining these farms. It is crucial that local communities in these port cities (especially communities of color) have a shot at the new jobs associated with port development and offshore energy production. This includes jobs in the supply chain supporting the projects.

It is also crucial that these jobs provide good wages, benefits, and working conditions. Recent passage by the Connecticut General Assembly of Bill No. SB-999, An Act Concerning a Just Transition to Climate-Protective Energy Production and Community Investment, addresses “community benefits, prevailing wage, and labor agreements for large-scale projects.”

The process unfolding in Connecticut is an example of how the Green New Deal could address building sustainable energy generation that mitigates climate change while also fighting social and economic inequality. Achieving these crucial environmental and social needs, however, requires building coalitions that unite millions of people in the struggle to rebuild local communities while protecting the planet at the same time.

It will take coalitions involving local communities of color, Native Americans, the labor movement, agriculture, the faith-based community, progressives, and others concerned about climate change and social and economic inequality to build enough pressure to achieve progress on these issues.

The kind of coalition needed

The Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs has been working for nine years to address these issues. Its platform is an excellent example of a broad movement, led by organized labor, striving to build a sustainable environment and livable communities. The platform embraces “diversity as a source of power” and sees the climate crisis as “an opportunity to build thriving local economies that are not only more sustainable but also more just and equitable.”

Some members of the Connecticut Roundtable at a 2019 retreat. | Connecticut Roundtable via Facebook

John Harrity, chair of the Connecticut Roundtable, says he became passionate about fighting climate change and creating new well-paying jobs after reading founder Bill McKibben’s article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” in Rolling Stone in 2012.

McKibben’s article discussed the seriousness of the impacts climate change will have upon society and the planet if global warming continues to increase from levels existing in 2012. He described the deep reductions required in fossil fuel emissions to prevent polar ice melting, sea level rise, more severe droughts and storm events, and their combined impacts upon people and the planet.

Harrity worked as a machinist at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft and has been a long time union leader and activist with the International Association of Machinists in Connecticut. He became a local leader and then president of the 10,000-member Connecticut State Council of the International Association of Machinists.

Shortly after reading McKibben, Harrity began to talk with working people about the climate’s impact on people, communities, and the planet.

He told workers, “Climate change is the most crucial issue facing all of us for the rest of our lives…and if you don’t believe me now, think about it in ten years, if you see what is going to happen, and it hasn’t taken ten years to see how climate change has changed for the worse.”

John Olsen, then president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, was asked to host a meeting of labor, environmental, and religious representatives to discuss climate change. Out of this meeting emerged the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs (CRCJ). Olsen asked Harrity to keep track of the CRCJ, and he became its chair.

The CRCJ then worked with the Governor’s Steering Committee on Climate Change, helping it move from being an inactive committee to playing a role in identifying climate change issues in Connecticut and contributing to positive changes in state policy.

The Roundtable convinced the state to move from a commitment to achieving 200 megawatts of sustainable offshore wind power to the current goal of 2,000. It advocated for apprentice training programs for the many new jobs anticipated in the wind power industry, labor project agreements to ensure good-paying jobs, and jobs for local port communities.

CRCJ mobilized 800 Connecticut trade unionists to participate in the 2014 March on Climate Change in New York, where they marched behind a banner proclaiming: “We have the right to GOOD JOBS and a livable future.”

Workers in fossil fuel energy jobs are nervous about the future of their jobs and livelihoods. A Just Transition includes training and financial assistance for current workers in fossil fuel jobs to ensure they benefit from the new energy-related jobs. This is important for these workers and their communities. It is a key part of building broad support for fighting climate change and creating livable communities.

Taking the fight to the national level

Connecticut Roundtable’s work has contributed to national efforts to build a movement to achieve a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a plan to combat climate change and social and economic inequality while creating millions of jobs and rebuilding communities.

Bills introduced in the U.S. Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would launch a 10-year “national mobilization” addressing climate change, developing sustainable energy production, good-paying jobs, health insurance, paid vacations, and secure retirement for all.

It would include job training, rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and transportation systems, and other efforts to protect the environment and communities.

The fight to win the Green New Deal involves many organizations from the labor movement, communities of color, Native Americans, agriculture, faith organizations, and others concerned about livable communities and the planet.

The Sunrise Movement, a multi-racial youth movement, is committed “to stop climate change and create millions of jobs in the process.”

Sunrise says it’s “building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the well-being of all people.”

The struggle for a Green New Deal requires broad coalitions at all levels (community, state, and national). These need to address issues affecting people, including possible solutions that involve people working together in their communities. And these coalitions need a strategy for how to win not just the Green New Deal, but the fundamental social transformations required to support and sustain it.

Environmental activist Marc Brodine, in his book Green Strategy: A Path to Fundamental Transformation, emphasized the path needed to create a society that exists in harmony with nature while also meeting people’s needs. Brodine stressed that “unity in struggle” is the only way forward for the environmental movement.

He concluded, “Humanity depends for survival on the natural world, on the systems of air, water, and soil, as well as the natural resources from which we draw all raw materials which we use to produce all food and goods. Humanity needs to develop a new balanced, sustainable relationship with the natural world.” He tied it all together by saying that “a healthy humanity requires a healthy natural world capable of regenerating itself.”

He then placed the struggle to live within a healthy natural world within the current capitalist system of maximizing profits for 1% of the population and the system’s history of using racism to divide workers.

Brodine identified the need for “a worldwide environmental movement with a broad strategy with the ultimate aim of creating fundamental transformation—in the economy, in society, in culture, in politics.”

This broad environmental movement will need to build ties with other popular movements, developing unity to address both climate change and other environmental problems, as well as the social and economic inequality that currently exists in the U.S. He sees a need for those movements to reach a tipping point where solutions to these problems can be applied to help people and the planet survive in a healthy manner.

What does offshore wind energy development along the U.S. Atlantic coast and jobs for local communities have to do with these broader issues?

Creating the Connecticut Roundtable for Climate and Jobs, working on developing sustainable energy resources, and creating good jobs for local communities are all part of the task of building popular movements to address climate change and economic inequality.

These efforts in Connecticut are the building blocks that will mobilize and unite people in the struggles for a sustainable society and planet.


Gil Netter
Gil Netter

Gil Netter is a writer from Connecticut.