Wind industry training catches a Southern breeze
New College Institute wants to take the lead in building the state’s wind energy workforce.
In January, the Martinsville higher education center became the first site in Virginia to offer wind technician training courses, certified by the Global Wind Organisation, a Danish nonprofit that sets international minimum standards for safety and technical training for wind turbine workers. Following a successful audit, the school is set to receive certification, says Karen Jackson, NCI’s interim executive director.
Currently, there are 15 training centers certified to offer GWO courses in the United States, says Ralph Savage, head of communications for GWO. The organization hopes to have 32 U.S. sites certified by the end of 2021.
Nonetheless, Jackson says, growth in the wind industry will likely “outpace the number of GWO training locations that exist for some period of time.”
David White, executive director of the Virginia Maritime Association, sees considerable opportunity ahead for Virginians trained to operate on wind turbines. He points to Dominion Energy Inc.’s $7.8 billion project to erect 180 to 190 wind turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach by 2026, creating the nation’s largest offshore wind farm. “We’re going to need the workers,” he says.
In October 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the creation of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance, a partnership between NCI, Virginia Beach-based Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy in Norfolk to offer wind technician training.
Upon accepting NCI’s interim position in 2019, Jackson began seeking ways to bring “game-changing” training programs to Martinsville. As secretary of technology for Virginia under Gov. Terry McAuliffe, she was acquainted with the state’s burgeoning wind industry.
After making some calls and learning that no other Virginia school was yet offering GWO-certified courses, Jackson decided to go for it. Getting the program up and running cost about $350,000, which included the price of erecting a 25-foot tower for students to climb.
Initially, Jackson believes NCI’s wind technician offerings may be populated more by students traveling to Martinsville from Western states, where there’s greater current demand for wind technicians.
By early December, no students had yet enrolled in the January courses, but Jackson wasn’t worried. “We may start off slow, and that’s OK,” she says, confident the effort will pick up steam — or wind, as the case may be.