PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Northern Maine Community College is poised to launch a first-of-its-kind program in New England geared toward training wind power technicians.
At a meeting in South Portland on Wednesday, The Maine Community College System board of trustees formally approved a proposal brought forward by NMCC to introduce a wind power technology program on campus. The program will train wind power technicians to operate, maintain and repair wind turbine generators.
Officials from NMCC said they were inspired to create the program in light of the growing interest in wind power and NMCC’s proximity to the state’s first commercial wind farm, located in Mars Hill just 14 miles from the campus.
College officials plan to offer initial courses as early as January, with the intent of bringing the full program on line next fall.
Current entry-level wages for a wind power technician are $18 to $22 per hour.
“We are very excited every time we put a new program out into the community, but we are especially excited about this one,” Tim Crowley, the president of NMCC, said earlier this week. “This program will serve the needs of students in the region and, we believe, attract more students to campus.”
Crowley added that there already is a faculty member on board to teach introduction to wind power, the first course likely to be offered in the program. Another educator will be brought on board to help teach the rest of the courses in the program, according to Crowley.
“We believe the wind power technology program will provide a valuable and needed resource for entities that erect turbines, as well as excellent placement opportunities for future graduates of the college,” he added.
Crowley noted that the college is ideally suited to provide wind power technology instruction. He said NMCC has existing programs in electrical construction and maintenance and computer electronics, two fields that serve as foundations for the multidisciplinary wind power industry.
Enrollment in the electrical construction and maintenance associate degree program has risen by 18 percent this fall over last fall, according to campus officials.
College officials noted that conservative estimates indicate Aroostook County has the potential to realize 50 to 80 new, long-term, highly skilled, high-wage technical positions in operation and maintenance for wind farms between 2009 and 2012. Additional employment opportunities are anticipated in neighboring northern Washington County, in Franklin County in western Maine and in Canada’s Atlantic provinces. A two-year technical degree is the desired credential for entry into these positions.
Brent Boyles, Maine Public Service Co. president and chief executive officer, also expressed enthusiasm for the program.
“This is an impressive program,” he said. “Maine Public Service Company has had a longstanding relationship with NMCC, and 30 percent of our employees have attended the college. We are looking forward to continuing that relationship through this program.”
At this point, MPS has 1,250 megawatts of renewable energy interconnection requests and provides power transmission delivery for other excess generation in northern Maine, including the 42-megawatt Mars Hill wind farm. Future projects have the potential to stimulate additional jobs, as well as research and development initiatives in renewable energy. The multiplier impacts of wind farms and constructing a new transmission line will be significant to Aroostook County, according to Boyles.
“We are looking at a whole new industry emerging in our area, which includes constructing a bulk transmission power line to electrically connect northern Maine to New England and creating ‘green’ jobs for wind operators and technicians in the renewable energy sector,” Boyles said.
Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons said Wednesday that NMCC’s new program “is a great example of the community colleges’ ability to respond quickly to the work force needs of business and industry.
“The program will offer students the skills they need to qualify for good jobs close to home,” he added.
Work on establishing the curriculum for the wind power technology program was completed over the past year by NMCC faculty and staff, together with wind power developers and energy utilities.