Wind Industry Growing Fast in US, but Technical Manpower Scarce

by Gopalan on  March 3, 2009 at 12:25 PM Environmental Health
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 Wind Industry Growing Fast in US, but Technical Manpower Scarce
There is just not enough technical manpower required for the fast-growing wind industry in the US.

Ironically at a time of economic meltdown, when investments would be hard to come by for the renewable sector, hardy youngsters are coming forward to get trained to take up difficult, at times even dangerous, jobs in the wind industry. For placements are almost certain.

Yes, they are clamoring for skilled technicians to maintain the 30,000 wind turbines already in the ground.

Last year the country surpassed Germany as the world's No. 1 wind-powered nation, with more than 25,000 megawatts in place.

Wind could supply 20% of America's electricity needs by 2030, up from less than 1% now, according to a recent Energy Department report.

California is the No. 3 wind state, behind Texas and Iowa. A slew of developments are in the pipeline, including in Kern County, where hundreds of turbines already dot the wind-swept ridges of the Tehachapi mountain range.

California's community colleges are trying to get wind technicians into the workforce faster with the accelerated boot camp system. Cerro Coso and Shasta College in Redding are the first institutions out of the gate. More are on the way.

The goal is to have 50 schools around the state offering wind training within a few years, said Peter Davis, director of the community college system's Advanced Transportation Technologies and Energy initiative.

"This is going to be ground zero for alternative energy" in California, said Jim Fay, vice president of academic affairs at Cerro Coso Community College, which has five campuses in Kern County. "We have to prepare our students."

A typical 1.5-megawatt GE unit costs $2.5 million installed. It sits about 30 stories above the ground at the hub, where its three 100-foot-long blades connect to the tower.

Just behind the hub is the housing for the gearbox, drive train and other components. Think of this as the wind technician's office. Except there's no elevator. Reaching it means climbing rung by rung on a narrow steel ladder attached to the inside of the tower. An agile worker can do it in less than 10 minutes, several times a day.

"You earn every dollar you make in this industry. It's plain hard work," said Dan Templeton, program chairman for wind energy at Texas State Technical College West Texas.

Advice to hopefuls: Quit smoking. Lose that gut. And don't try this with a hangover.

Technicians must be hyper-vigilant in an occupation that combines dizzying heights, tight spaces, high-voltage electricity and spinning metal.

Fatalities are rare but unspeakably gruesome.

Workers have plunged to their deaths, been electrocuted and been ground to a pulp by rotating machinery. Teaching students to respect these beasts is the job of wind instructors such as Mays, who grew up on a ranch in nearby Tehachapi.

The potential danger doesn't appear to faze 18-year-old Shelby Young of California City, a dirt-bike rider and the only woman in the class.

"I like the adrenaline rush," she said.

Josh Gates' biggest worry is supporting his family. The unemployed builder, 27, left his pregnant wife and young son in Greenville, Utah, to attend the class. He bunks in a friend's motor home, making the long drive home every few weeks.

"It's going to pay off in the end," he said.

Students are jumping at the few seats available now, Marla Dickerson reported for Los Angeles Times.

Laid-off house framer Shane Culleton of Rosamond, Calif., borrowed $1,000 from his mother-in-law to enroll in the Cerro Coso boot camp. The 29-year-old father of three is so confident that he'll find a job that he vowed to sell his beloved motorcycle if he fails.

"It's going to be a while before construction comes back," he said. "I've got to do something."

Source: Medindia

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