There’s good news and bad news in the wind industry. The bad news is that some of its jobs are physically demanding, such as climbing a 180-ft tower in winter to nurse an ailing drivetrain. A director at a support company familiar with the industry’s working conditions says the turnover for the more vigorous jobs is about 18 months. That brings us to the good news: There is plenty of work erecting towers and maintaining turbines.
A few schools have recognized the potential and initiated training programs for wind turbine technicians. One school, Lorain County Community College in Lorain, Ohio, put together what it says is the first associate’s degree credit program in the state in the field of wind-turbine power generation. It’s underway with a full class of 48 students for the 2009 fall semester. The Associate of Science degree in Alternative Energy – Wind Turbines will train students to become installation and maintenance professionals.
LCCC program coordinator Duncan Estep says, “This is a mechatronic program – a combination of electrical, mechanical, and computer skills. It’s what’s required of a technician in today’s world. One frustration I had as a manager was the specialization of technicians. One could solder but not swap out a mechanical component.”
The program will focus on all wind technologies. Small wind (1 kW to 100 kW) is important to Ohio because of the lower inland wind speeds. The class WT1 looks at the technology in small wind while class WT2 looks at larger turbines. “The skills are somewhat similar. “Rigging is applicable to both, although alignment is more of an issue on large turbine gearboxes. In WT1 we put up met poles to measure wind, a task applicable to both. We’ll put up a number of small turbines for experience. And we’ll work on a nearby 500-kW unit. What’s more, students can volunteer to work with installers so they gain experience. And we will do safety certification that involves climbing and rescue. That typically is more useful in the larger turbines, says Estep.
The courses that all technicians take will form a foundation for other possibilities. “If a student gets a degree in wind turbines, they are prepared for related jobs. Even a few classes in another area would allow a degree in something else, so you have a reasonable amount of portability. After graduation they could work for an erector, go into sales, or work for a manufacturer because they understand what makes a turbine good or bad,” he says.