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The Power of Wind

by RaeLynn Ricarte
The Dalles Chronicle, January 13, 2011

CGCC honored for wind tech training

Columbia Gorge Community College received special recognition Wednesday for being one of the first institutions in the United States to establish a wind technician training program.

Dan Spatz, CGCC development director, said the honor bestowed by the American Wind Energy Association will help the college compete for grant funding to expand its renewable energy curriculum.

"This award helps underscore the accomplishments that we have already made and defines our program as established in comparison to those that are new," he said.

Dr. Susan Wolff, chief academic officer for CGCC, was present in San Diego, Calif., on Jan. 12 when AWEA's first-ever Seal of Approval was handed out to CGCC and two other community colleges.

"I want to thank the staff and leadership of AWEA for their belief that these education and training programs are important to the growth of the industry," said Wolff. "They have been diligent in working with the industry and their members for two years and need to be recognized for their work and developing the seal of approval program."

CGCC's renewable energy training program was one of those used as a reference point as AWEA developed its core "skill sets" for wind technician training. That criterion is intended to serve as a guide for other colleges to use in designing their educational programs.

The announcement of seal recipients was made at Wednesday's meeting of AEWA's Education Working Group. Also recognized at the special ceremony was Iowa Lakes Community College and Texas State Technical College.

Martha Capovilla, retired Hood River educator and CGCC foundation board member, helped prepare and submit the college's application for the seal last fall. The Dalles Community Outreach Team has been meeting with AWEA in support of the seal process for the past two years.

"It is exciting to see the hard work, enthusiasm and commitment of the RET (Renewable Energy Training) instructors and staff, working along with AWEA, to set the standard for a top notch program," said Capovilla.

CGCC officials said the seal is important because, currently, there is no national certification process governing various wind technician programs in the country. The distinction reflects that the three chosen colleges have proven track records of educating wind technicians and have met the rigorous demands of the relatively new industry.

Spatz said Wolff initiated the process to establish a renewable energy training program after observing the growth of wind farms in the Mid-Columbia area almost seven years ago. Of special interest to the CGCC board was teaching local residents how to operate and maintain the hundreds of wind turbines being installed in the region. The average wage for one of these jobs is $26-36 per hour and there was a potential for more than 400 new jobs with 45 wind farms – including some with multiple phases – proposed, in the permitting process or already producing power.

According to Spatz, the college applied for and received start-up funding from the state in 2006 to research the feasibility of establishing a specialized "green power" training program. The college worked with the state and workforce partner Mid-Columbia Council of Governments to develop curriculum for the new courses.

In January of 2007, CGCC launched a non-accredited pilot program that was deemed successful when 22 out of 24 students immediately gained employment after one year of training. The college was congressionally recognized that same year for establishing the first wind training program of any community college on the West Coast.

CGCC kicked off its accredited classes in renewable energy in the fall of 2007 after receiving a $1.67 million employment and training grant from U.S. Department of Labor. The college was again given congressional attention in 2008 for its innovation.

Spatz said 125 students can now earn a nine-month certification or a two-year associate of applied sciences degree that can also provide solar, biomass and hydropower employment opportunities.

"The Seal of Approval is the latest stage in a process that began in September of 2007, when CGCC organized a series of conference calls with wind industry partners across the United States," said Dr. Frank Toda, college president, after the Jan. 12 announcement.

"Our partners challenged us to help bring uniformity to wind technician training. The AWEA has been instrumental in moving this forward and we are honored to be among the first three community colleges receiving this seal of approval."

Toda has held a series of meetings with 18 wind power producers and/or support organizations to learn about their workforce needs in order to customize the college's training program. He believes the new employment opportunities are vital to the economic health of a county that has a poverty rate of 17 percent, compared to the Oregon average of 13 percent.

Wasco County is currently ranked fifth from the highest to lowest in terms of poverty out of the 36 counties in Oregon, according to economic experts.

In November the college lost its bid to gain voter approval of an $8 million bond levy that would have been coupled with a state grant of equal amount to build a Workforce Innovation Center. That facility would have used state of the art technology to train students for renewable energy jobs.

Although the college had to turn down the state's $8 million after defeat of the levy, Toda has not given up on the idea to establish the new center. He believes another funding avenue will open up in the future if CGCC officials will be watchful of that opportunity and follow every lead.

RaeLynn Ricarte
The Power of Wind
The Dalles Chronicle, January 13, 2011

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