The developer of a floating wind demonstration project off Monhegan Island has reached an agreement with organized labor unions that’s expected to lead to skilled workers being hired for hundreds of construction jobs in a burgeoning new industry.

During a news conference in Portland on Wednesday, New England Aqua Ventus LLC and the Maine Building and Construction Trades Council announced that they have signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the role of Maine labor in offshore wind projects in the Gulf of Maine. The deal is among several being reached across the Eastern Seaboard for multiple projects promising tens of thousands of jobs.

The University of Maine’s 9,000-pound prototype floating wind turbine off the coast of Castine in 2013. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The announcement comes as tensions are building between the wind power industry and Maine fishermen who see such projects as a threat to their livelihood.

The memorandum creates a framework for future negotiations of a so-called project labor agreement. Such agreements are common in the construction industry and set terms and conditions for employing union workers. In this case, the agreement envisions that 17 trade unions representing 5,000 Maine workers would provide a talent pool to fill skilled positions for an anticipated wave of offshore wind construction.

Those unions involve trades such as shipbuilders, electrical workers, plumbers, millwrights and laborers.

The memorandum also includes training initiatives to bring new workers into the skilled trades for offshore wind. One element would incorporate pre-apprenticeship programs such as Helmets to Hard Hats, which recruits veterans, and Building Futures, which helps train disadvantaged young adults.

Aqua Ventus is currently developing the $100 million project 14 miles off the coast with floating platform technology developed by the University of Maine. It will consist of a single, semi-submersible concrete platform supporting a full-scale, 10- to 12-megawatt wind turbine that will send power to the electric grid via an undersea cable.

The demonstration project is expected to kick off more than $125 million in total economic activity, according to the developer, and hundreds of Maine-based jobs during construction, slated for 2021 and 2022.

Aqua Ventus says the project is meant to further evaluate the floating technology, monitor environmental factors and develop best practices for offshore wind to coexist with traditional marine activities, such as lobster fishing. Many of the state’s fishing interests, however, have pushed back against the prospect of offshore wind power, fearing it will put their traditional harvest areas off limits.

The developer said it’s committed to providing opportunities for Maine workers and businesses by building a supply chain for offshore wind power and maximizing the involvement of Maine-based organizations in all aspects of the project.

“(Aqua Ventus) is really pleased to partner with the council and its affiliated unions to involve their skilled members in offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine,” said Chris Wissemann, chief executive of Diamond Offshore Wind Development, one of the joint venture partners. “The (agreement) is part of our commitment to doing everything we can to use Maine workers and content in our development, construction and operation activities.”

In an interview, Wissemann said another goal of the Monhegan project is to identify the labor requirements of larger ventures in the future. For instance, the floating concrete base of the turbine platform will weigh roughly 10,000 tons. That will require teams of carpenters to build the forms, iron workers to install thousands of reinforcing bars, engineers to operate massive cranes and electricians to handle the power cables. Union wages for these trades range from $50,o00 to $80,000 a year, he estimated.

“Offshore wind is a much bigger infrastructure project than solar or land-based wind,” he said.

If Maine can find a niche in offshore wind, Wissemann said, it will create an industry in which Mainers will be able to work for a generation, because projects will need to be maintained and repowered over the years.

“This is not going to be built overnight,” he said.

The agreement is a first step in creating careers in the trades for a green-energy economy, said John Napolitano, president of the Maine Building and Construction Trades Council.

“It will also give our veterans, youth and minorities the opportunities to learn the trades and build the workforce for the future,” Napolitano said. “Too often, Maine building trades workers have to travel outside the state for work, but this agreement will help provide an anchor for a worker-friendly, carbon-free industry right here in Maine.”

The demonstration project offers Maine a chance to tackle both climate change and income inequality, said Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, D-1st District.

“As our state and nation transition to a climate-resilient, low-carbon economy, we should use contractors who respect workers’ rights and pay them a living wage for their highly skilled labor,” Pingree said in a statement.

Wednesday’s event was held at the Ocean Gateway terminal in Portland, with its wall of windows facing the harbor. A large color poster proclaimed: “Building a new industry for Maine’s future.” Behind it, lobster boats and a gasoline barge motored past a background framed by oil tank farms and the Portland Pipe Line terminal. Fishing, fossil fuels and clean-energy – a snapshot of facets of Maine’s economy, today and tomorrow.

JOBS RIDE ON WIND POWER

The kind of labor agreement envisioned in Maine is being forged for other East Coast wind farms that are much larger in scale.

In Virginia, Dominion Energy is planning to negotiate a deal with three building and construction trade unions for the onshore electrical connection for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind farm. A first phase of that project with two turbines went online last year, but a future expansion could create 1,100 jobs and power 600,000 homes, Dominion said.

Two months ago, six unions in New Jersey signed a memorandum of understanding with Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, which could generate enough energy for 1 million homes. That agreement called for training and apprenticeship programs and support for the Helmets to Hardhats Program for veterans.

The prospects for offshore wind becoming a key employment sector got a boost this month as an element of the massive infrastructure spending plan being proposed by President Biden. In creating a new wind energy area in shallow waters between Long Island, New York, and the New Jersey shore, the White House cited a recent study by the Wood MacKenzie consulting firm that estimated wind energy projects could support up to 25,000 development and construction jobs through 2030, and 7,000 more jobs in communities tied to those activities.

These East Coast projects differ from what’s being proposed in Maine. They feature multiple turbines that use conventional technology from Europe, with towers sunk into the seabed in shallow water. Maine is attempting to be a pioneer in floating technology farther offshore, in deeper water where wind is more consistent and the energy potential is greater. Floating technology is considered the next phase of global wind power development.

To that end, the administration of Gov. Janet Mills is seeking to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind farm dedicated to research. The project would include as many as a dozen turbines floating 20 to 40 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine. The primary purpose would be research, with a goal of working with the fishing industry to develop the technology in a sustainable way, the governor has said.

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