Wind power careers in Wyoming
Community college program trains future wind power technicians.
Soon, 44-year-old Brad Clark will begin his second career — 300 feet off the ground.
"About a year ago, I got laid off from my position in high tech," explains Clark. "I'm an engineer by education and training, and once I got laid off, I had to think, what do I want to do? What's going to be a business that is going to be around? So I was part of a government retraining program."
Clark is now a student in the wind energy program at Laramie County Community College (LCCC) in Cheyenne, Wyo.
"Within two weeks, we were out climbing a real wind turbine," says Clark. "It was for them to make sure we didn’t have an issue with heights, but I think it really helped everybody say, 'Wow, this is really cool.'"
As the federal government began to incorporate wind into the country's energy portfolio, educators in Wyoming started planning to train technicians who will maintain the turbines that capture this clean, consistent energy.
LCCC launched its wind energy training with help from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"We had the Integrated Systems Training Center that provided training in basic electricity, mechanics, and hydraulics," says Mimi Hull, LCCC grants writer.
As the college began ramping up its wind energy program, LCCC applied to NSF's Advanced Technological Education program (ATE), which focuses on community colleges in the technical areas. LCCC's NSF grant began in July 2008.
Hull says students entering the wind energy program range from environmentally minded young people right out of high school to individuals in the middle of their careers. Some, like Clark, have lost their jobs in engineering, electronics or manufacturing. Others are enthusiastic about the growth of green energy.
After demonstrating a self-evacuation technique from about 30 feet up in the LCCC training facility, a slightly winded Brandon Sabo describes his enthusiasm for the training.
"It's very exciting to do this, because you actually know you could be doing this in real life, or using this to save somebody. Here in this kind of environment, it still gives you a great rush," says Sabo.
Sabo isn't sure where he might want to work, but believes the possibilities are wide open. And he is also excited by the future of clean energy.
"It's very environmentally friendly; it's something that everybody should be looking forward to," he adds.
Wyoming's wide-open spaces just "scream" wind power. It is one of the few places in the United States with class six and class seven winds. The Department of Energy classifies class six winds as outstanding and class sevens as superb for wind power.
"As these wind farms grow and expand, they're going to need trained technicians," says Terry Cook, principal investigator of the LCCC project.
He says a close working relationship with power companies is a must. "Rather than us teaching students something they'll never use, we get the information from the industry first, bring it into our classrooms and teach our students, so when they go out and do their internships, the industry sees that they are learning something useful."
Doug Cook, dean of career and technical education at LCCC, says wind energy has a promising future in Wyoming and will diversify the state's energy portfolio.
"We also think that it is a benefit to the state of Wyoming and its residents. We know there will be some revenue produced. Part of the energy produced from our wind farms here in the state will go to benefit Wyoming's infrastructure, including schools, highways and counties," he explains.
Wind energy is also proving to be an interesting second career for some of the teachers at Laramie County Community College.
"I retired from the Air Force a couple years ago; I sat back wondering, 'What am I going to do now?'" says John Lamorie, program director for LCCC's Wind Energy Technology program.
Lamorie worked for the India–based wind energy giant Suzlon before his work at LCCC. He passes on a passion for the technology to his students.
"It was easy for me to learn this career and it has an awesome future. I wish I was 20 years old again," he laughs.