The United States is trying to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in order to meet its climate goals under the Paris climate agreement. A major contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is the energy sector, which accounts for about 25% of total emissions.
The Biden administration wants to significantly reduce this figure and is pushing the development on offshore wind along America's coasts. Its goal is to have 30 gigawatts of offshore wind online by 2030 and that will require thousands of new jobs, especially in the construction sector.
It's one of the reasons why President Biden often brings up the idea of new economic opportunities when he talks about tackling climate change.
While countries in Europe and Asia have been exploring offshore wind for years, it's still a fairly nascent industry in the U.S. The first offshore wind farm in the U.S. started operations in 2016. That's 25 years after the first offshore wind turbines started turning in Europe.
Though other renewable energy sources, such as solar and onshore wind, have been around for decades in the U.S., they often lack the protection and job security provided by unions. Offshore wind wants to change this by unionizing large parts of its workforce.
This could also entice more fossil fuel workers to look for a future in clean energy. As a 2021 study has shown, the average compensation in the clean energy sectors still lags behind those in the fossil fuel industry. In California, for example, the average compensation for a clean energy worker is about $86,000. For a fossil fuel worker it's about $130,000.
"Higher unionization rates should promote gains in compensation and better working conditions," according to the study.
North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU), a labor organization representing more than 3 million workers across 14 unions in the U.S. and Canada, is preparing its members to compete for those upcoming opportunities.
"I think offshore wind energy is poised to support good paying union jobs, middle class wages, we're seeing a lot of positive movement for it," says Trevor Falk, who is a special assistant for energy policy at NABTU.