Elizabeth Yeampierre estimates that her team at UPROSE – the Brooklyn community-based environmental justice organization she oversees – has been advocating for the creation of green jobs along the industrial waterfront of Sunset Park for over two decades.
“I found a flyer the other day at UPROSE that was dated ‘97 or ‘98,” said Yeampierre, who’s served as executive director to the Sunset Park-based organization since 1996.
So, it felt like a long-deserved victory when on Jan. 13 the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) approved plans to transform the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) into a wind turbine assembly and maintenance plant, answering the calls of groups like UPROSE and bringing with it over one thousand green jobs to the area.
“This community vision of taking the industrial waterfront so that it could start building for climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience is not new,” Yeampierre said. “These are victories that don’t happen overnight.”
The state is contracting with Norwegian energy company Equinor to create the Sunset Park wind energy hub, which will service two offshore wind farms to be built off the coast of Long Island.
The two farms are slated to be up and running between 2027 and 2028, but the construction of materials and improvement projects at the SBMT will begin sooner, Doreen Harris, president and CEO of NYSERDA told Bklyner. She estimates that the two farms will generate enough energy to power 1.3-million New York homes – and developing, operating, and maintaining them will create 1,000 short-term and 200 long-term jobs within the Sunset Park community and 5,200 jobs overall.
The plan is part of a broader set of sweeping renewable energy investments across the state that Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Wednesday in his annual State of the State address. Part of a strategy to build New York’s green economy, the plan also includes the development of solar and hydroelectric projects, building electrification investments and battery storage projects across the state.
Outside of Brooklyn, the state also plans to increase wind turbine manufacturing capabilities at ports in Albany, Ravena, and Long Island and will launch an Offshore Wind Training Institute at SUNY Stony Brook and Farmingdale State College, expected to prepare at least 2,500 New Yorkers for highly-skilled and specialized jobs in the renewables industry.
For Yeampierre and her team at UPROSE, the creation of a green jobs hub in Sunset Park is the culmination of years of environmental justice and anti-displacement advocacy. The group, supported by organizations like the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) and New York Renews, has taken the lead in advocating at the state level for investments in renewable jobs along the waterfront of the community they serve.
The organization has long supported efforts to maintain the industrial character of the SBMT, the city’s largest industrial waterfront, from the threat of development. Most recently, the organization helped lead the fight against a rezoning proposal for Industry City that opponents feared would spur gentrification.
In 2019, UPROSE crafted The Green Resilient Industrial District (GRID), an alternative proposal for the development of the Sunset Park waterfront which called for the creation of renewable infrastructure manufacturing sites and green job training centers in the area. UPROSE submitted the GRID proposal to NYSERDA as a model to inform the eventual creation of a renewable jobs hub in Sunset Park. The Industry City rezoning project was withdrawn by the owners in September of 2020.
In crafting the GRID waterfront proposal, Yeampierre says it was essential to maintain the historically industrial nature of the Sunset Park waterfront to prevent the loss of working-class jobs within the local community. According to a 2016 report by the Office of the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, manufacturing accounts for 11.3% of private-sector jobs in Sunset Park, the highest concentration in any neighborhood in the city.
“You’ve got people that are working on the waterfront,” Yeampierre says. “We come from that – we don’t want them to lose their jobs. What do we replace that with? Well, that’s a just transition.”
An NYSERDA spokesperson told Bklyner it’s sought community input from the earliest stages of the SBMT’s design, and plans to continue to work closely with advocacy groups like UPROSE throughout the construction and hiring process, the logistics of which are still being confirmed.
Julia Bovey, director of external affairs at Equinor Wind US, says the company has partnered with the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) in making a series of commitments to hire and invest in training locally, including working with Workforce1 to recruit from the neighborhood and conducting outreach to schools to invest in workforce readiness in the renewable economy. Summer Sandoval, the energy democracy coordinator at UPROSE, says her team plans to continue working with the community to hold the company accountable to these commitments and to ensure that local residents are given priority to any new jobs the wind energy hub creates.
“When Equinor first identified the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal as a potential site for our offshore wind work and first reached out to local leaders, around 2017, we learned that the community had been fighting for years to preserve SBMT for marine industrial jobs and they had long been organized around advocating for that vision,” Bovey said. “We have worked hard to align with the community’s clear vision for the area, and we’re committed to continuing that close coordination and consultation.”
Yeampierre believes investing in clean energy will also reduce some of the environmental health burdens Sunset Park residents face. The region is home to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, three peaking power plants, and a waste transfer station, the emissions from which she says place residents at disproportionate risk of respiratory illness and COVID-19. Having grown up in the South Bronx and Upper Manhattan, Yeampierre keeps environmental health top of mind in fighting for climate justice.
“I grew up in an [environmental justice] community, and … I share all of the underlying health conditions that a lot of people in my community do, because of toxic exposure,” Yeampierre says. “A facility like this does more than just reduce carbon, it also removes the dependency on the extractive economy, which affects us in so many different kinds of ways, but particularly our health.”
The investments put New York well on its way to accomplishing goals laid out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), a piece of statewide legislation passed in July, 2019 that set legally-binding emissions standards that are widely considered the most ambitious in the country. The Act calls for 70% of New York’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, and strives to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050.
Harris, who oversees NYSERDA, says the energy generated from across all renewable projects the state announced Wednesday will move over 50% of New York’s economy to renewables.
“At this point, it has the potential to actually accelerate and exceed our goals in the CLCPA,” Harris said.
She says the two wind farms off Long Island alone – supported by ports like the SBMT – represent the largest production of offshore wind in the U.S. “That, in and of itself, is amazing and significant,” Harris says.
Yeampierre echoes the sentiment.
“I can’t believe that we have something like this coming to Brooklyn, and that other communities all over the country are going to realize that this is something they can do as well,” Yeampierre said.
“New York is kicking butt,” she added, with a laugh.