Wind Energy: A West Virginia Business Opportunity

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Wind Energy: A West Virginia Business Opportunity

Wind Energy Center in Tucker CountyWhile coal is and will continue to be the principal energy resource for making electricity in West Virginia, wind energy is also becoming a player as well. West Virginia is home to four wind farms: the 66 MW Wind Energy Center in Tucker County, the 264 MW NedPower project in Grant County and the 100 MW Beech Ridge project in Greenbrier County and the 98 MW Laurel Mountain project in Barbour/Randolph counties. An additional 365 MW of wind electrical generation capacity have been permitted and are under development in West Virginia. With wind energy becoming a West Virginia business opportunity, jobs will follow for those with the right skill sets.

The future looks bright for people who want a career in this environmentally friendly field. Technicians, installers, and engineers are among those needed to help establish and run a wind farm. West Virginia’s community and technical college system is helping students gain an edge on these green jobs. Eastern Community College in Moorefield received a grant three years ago to explore a wind program. The first students enrolled for classes in summer 2010. The program gives students a solid foundation in electromechanics, with wind components a major part of the curriculum.

“The goal for our students is to have a viable job waiting for them at the end of their college program,” says Sid Valentine, director of Workforce and Economic Development for the West Virginia Community and Technical College System. “The ‘green’ industry is so exploratory, we can’t create a program specific to that. This way, if a graduate can’t find a job in the wind industry, odds are they will be able to find something in the electromechanical field.”

A report by the American Wind Energy Association ranked West Virginia 19th in states with the highest capacity for wind energy. Eastern Community College is the ideal location for a wind program because it’s close to an existing wind farm in Grant and Tucker counties. There are only a few similar curriculums in the country, including one in New Mexico and another in Iowa. That program, at Iowa Lakes Community College, served as a model for Eastern.

“We went to Iowa for specific training and to get a first-hand look at their curriculum,” Valentine said. “It was good to spend time with administrators and professors to see exactly what they’re doing.”

Local companies in the Moorefield area have also played a role in designing the wind program at Eastern. “We invited people from ATK, American Woodmark, and Pilgrim’s Pride to be on an advisory committee. They explained what kind of skills they need in potential employees,” Valentine said. “While this program emphasizes a skill set in wind technology, we also teach electromechanics. These companies have a need for that. We talked about what to add or take away in each class so that when students leave here they are as technically up-to-date as possible. We have very specific objectives. In Wind 101, they’ll learn what a wind blade does and what a wind tower houses. Each class relates to the skill they will need on the job.”

Approximately 25 students have enrolled in each session of the “Introduction to Wind” class. Around 30 students have signed up for the two-year program. If the perfect job opportunity comes along before a student completes two years, they can earn a one-year certificate instead and be fully qualified.

“Students have given us a lot of positive feedback on the program, even though it’s less than a year old,” Valentine said. “They’re getting a lot out of it. They like having a solid foundation for a career with the electromechanics facet of our program. And the future is here in the wind industry, and it’s only going to grow,” Valentine said.

A two-year degree from Eastern Community College costs approximately $5,100. Anyone who is interested in the wind program may call Ward Malcolm at (304) 434-8000 or log on to www.eastern.wvnet.edu.