Why wind energy/clean energy could be big win for N.J.’s manufacturing sector

Tim Sullivan didn’t have an exact count — he just knew it was a lot. As in, a lot more than anyone would have thought.

Sullivan, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, was talking about the number of parts needed to put together an offshore wind turbine. It may be greater than the number of parts needed to make a jet engine, he told the audience at the New Jersey Clean Energy Conference last week.

Tim Sullivan. (File photos)

Whether the actual number is higher or lower doesn’t really matter.

What does matter to Sullivan is that all of those parts will need to be made — and, hopefully, by the state’s stronger-than-you-realize manufacturing sector.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for the incumbent manufacturing base here in New Jersey,” Sullivan said. “The number of components that go into these things are extraordinary. It’s like building jet engines, like building any super-intense component gear, so there’s a huge opportunity here.”

Making sure that opportunity gets down to the sector is key.

Sullivan said the state is ready to help — and hinted at programs that may be announced as soon as this week.

“We’re going to help manufacturers get up to the standards that some of the (original equipment manufacturers) already have,” he said. “This is some of the most exacting and demanding and high precision work in the world.

“We have some of the best manufacturers in the world, but they’re going to need to get ready, much like the workforce needs to get ready for this particular opportunity.”

John Kennedy.

John Kennedy, the CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, said this is all good news for the sector.

He knows the numbers.

“Seventy percent of what’s needed in windmills is manufactured products,” he said. “So, if it’s a billion-dollar project, that’s $700 million.”

How much of that goes to New Jersey manufacturers is the question.

Kennedy said he is eagerly awaiting news from the state.

“I don’t think we can make the blades just yet, but there’s a lot of components that I think we can,” he said.

Kennedy said he hopes the state will include set-asides or earmarks specific to New Jersey companies.

“We talk to a lot of other states through MIST, and we’re hearing that states are setting aside 25% to 40%,” he said. “Even if it’s 25% — that’s a heck of a lot of manufactured product.”

Sullivan wouldn’t be specific on potential plans, but the state and the EDA have long said the goal of offshore wind is to build an entire economic ecosystem around it — one that potentially could serve the entire East Coast, now and in the future.

“We want to help existing Jersey manufacturers take the next couple of steps to get ready, not just offshore wind, but clean energy broadly,” he said. “The long-term play here is to get the next generation of technology — the 20-megawatt turbine, the 25-megawatt turbine, things that doesn’t exist yet — to be developed and researched in New Jersey so that is manufactured from snout to tail here in New Jersey.”