Why new nonprofit would increase access to clean energy jobs for people of color

N.J. Offshore Wind Workforce and Equity CDC has potential $1M grant tied to Rise Light & Power’s proposed Outerbridge Renewable Connector

In addition to the promise of a healthier and more affordable state, New Jersey’s transition to clean, affordable, renewable energy sources such as offshore wind also brings opportunities for high-quality jobs.

The clean energy sector is competitive and, while any hardworking person interested in learning the skills necessary to work in a clean energy economy should be invited to the table, systemic injustices prevent many Black, indigenous, people of color, women, veterans and formerly incarcerated individuals, while white men are employed at disproportionately higher rates than other workers.

Likewise, many of the jobs that go to union members present further obstacles for people in BIPOC communities that can’t obtain licensure due to lack of education or finances — an issue of circumstances rather than potential skills. Nor are there sufficient opportunities to become a union member.

The numerous obstacles to green jobs that perpetuate inequity in the state’s clean energy workforce were illuminated in a report by the Applied Economics Clinic, which found Black residents — who make up about 15% of New Jersey’s population — are only 9% of our clean energy workforce. Many clean energy jobs are located near New Jersey’s most overburdened communities — places with disproportionately high health and employment burdens, the report found.

Essex County, for example has the third-highest asthma hospitalization rate and the fifth-highest infant mortality rate in the state. Hudson County has the second-highest rate of people who lack health insurance and the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the state.

New Jersey’s diversity must be honored and embraced in order for the state’s offshore wind workforce to reflect the BIPOC demographic makeup.

The New Jersey Offshore Wind Workforce & Equity Community Development Corp. is a newly formed entity committed to dismantling the systemic oppression and institutional barriers that perpetuate employment inequities in the BIPOC communities through advocacy, education and collaborative efforts with unions and others committed to elevate members of these communities and prepare them for competitive work in the clean energy infrastructure.

As a start, we look to capitalize on a $1 million grant from Rise Light & Power, pending approval of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to develop Rise’s proposed Outerbridge Renewable Connector project to deliver electricity generated by offshore wind farms to the state’s power grid — powering up to 1.4 million homes and business across New Jersey.

Our CDC intends to grow its industry partnership to include additional members. Our work includes developing and implementing an action plan to identify and prioritize programs that address obstacles to meaningful employment in the offshore wind industry, including lack of training, mentoring, apprenticeships and digital literacy.

This is not only crucial to understanding the offshore wind employment landscape, but also gives the CDC an opportunity to effectuate change through strategic partnerships, collaborations and programming devised to dismantle barriers that keep members of oppressed communities out of this employment landscape.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2018 Executive Order for 100% clean energy reliance by 2050 and New Jersey’s 2019 Energy Master Plan serve as a roadmap for how to accomplish the feat. Our goal is ensuring that we all get there.

As leaders in New Jersey’s faith community, we are committed to ensure clean energy is not solely about breathing of fresh air. We want to make sure there is a long overdue sigh of relief from longstanding systemic racism, lack of employment access and toxic facilities near residential communities that members in our BIPOC communities have experienced for far too long.

The state’s transition from dirty fossil fuels is an opportunity to transform the lives of people who, for generations, haven’t been prioritized or valued. It’s time for New Jersey’s clean energy workforce to reflect the rich diversity that our state is known for if we expect to be a true leader in this industry.

The Rev. Joseph E. Woods is the pastor of the Saint Phillips Baptist Church of Hamilton and serves as president of the New Jersey Offshore Wind Workforce & Equity Community Development Corp.