BlueGreen Conference Report

Good Jobs are Green Jobs

The recent Blue-Green Alliance Conference drew nearly 2,000 people to Washington, DC February 8-10 to hear a number of panels and participate in workshops on the growing relationship between organized labor and the environmental movement. In an effort to undo the friction that had been felt between these two movements—each feeling that the other was not concerned about its core values— labor leaders, rank and file union members, environmentalists and other community members met together for two days before turning their attention on the third day to lobbying congressional lawmakers to push forward an agenda that upholds both creating good jobs and promoting a clean environment. The BlueGreen Alliance was formed five years ago when leaders of the United Steel Worker’s Union and the Sierra Club got together to find ways of furthering both their interests. Since that time, the Alliance has grown to include “more than 14 million members and supporters in pursuit of good jobs, a clean environment and a green economy.”

The conference had many more workshops than anyone could attend. I was interested in learning more about the state of development of businesses dealing with manufacturing for wind power development, where things stand with worker involvement in management, and issues concerning education and communities that are typically excluded from economic development, so I focused my time in those areas. In this and subsequent blog posts, I’ll cover each of these topics. First: Wind power.

Wind Turbines

I learned at the conference that there are 12 manufacturers in North Carolina actively engaged in manufacturing parts used in wind turbines. They specifically make some of the hundreds of parts used in the nacelle (the hub, generator and control portion) of high-powered wind power turbine installations. Large, precision-machined castings (similar to those used in the production of heavy transportation, shipbuilding or mining equipment) are used in the structures, where the relatively slow but powerful rotation of wind turbine blades is converted to the higher speed rotation needed for electricity production. Companies experienced in large-scale precision metalworking have opportunities for new markets in wind turbine production as part of the supply chain providing parts and equipment from local sources for the sometimes international companies that are the world leaders of wind turbine production.

Off Shore Wind

There are plans being developed to install a series of wind turbines just off shore along the east coast, to catch the stronger and more consistent winds that blow near the coastline. North Carolina does not otherwise have much potential for electric production from wind, since the average wind levels on land in this state would not support the use of wind power. This has not prevented a few North Carolina firms from being involved in manufacturing for other areas of the country, such as the Midwest, where there are much higher sustained winds. Given the extent of the transportation means that are available, large equipment made here can reasonably be transported by road or rail to the other states. North Carolina’s proximity to the Tidewater area of Virginia is also providential in terms of future economic development here. The shipbuilding industry in southern Virginia, not far from the North Carolina border, is well suited for some of the large-scale production that will be needed.


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