PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Ben Dutil was sitting on the porch of his godparents’ home in Mars Hill last year, looking out at the wind turbines on Mars Hill Mountain and dreaming of one day working on them and having “an elevated office with a view.”
That dream soon will be a reality for the 35-year-old student in the wind power technology program at Northern Maine Community College, as he and 10 other students in the program will spend the summer as interns for a number of Maine companies involved with the state’s wind industry.
During an event on the Presque Isle campus Tuesday afternoon held in conjunction with Maine Wind Week, students in the first and only wind power technology associate degree program in New England signed on for internships throughout the state this summer. During the event, students and faculty members at NMCC joined officials from several companies involved with Maine’s industry to laud the program.
In 2008, NMCC launched a first-of-its-kind program in New England geared toward training 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 just 14 miles from the campus in Mars Hill.
The college’s efforts to establish and subsequently begin delivery of the first wind power technology program in New England have been lauded throughout Maine and New England.
Nearly a dozen companies that are involved in some aspect of the state’s growing wind industry, and a number of others involved in wind outside of Maine, have been in regular contact with NMCC about the training program. Five of the businesses are in line to take on summer student interns and have turned to NMCC and wind power technology instructor Wayne Kilcollins to fill those slots.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, Kilcollins said NMCC has focused on assuring that its wind power technology students have a good balance of classroom and hands-on skills. He said the paid student interns will spend four to 14 weeks over the summer working on the turbines and shadowing other technicians in the field.
“Most of the students will be down at Kibby Mountain in Franklin County,” he said Tuesday, adding that among the companies hiring NMCC interns this summer are Cianbro, Larkin Enterprises, TransCanada, Reed & Reed and First Wind.
Ryan Fonbuena, a representative of First Wind, said NMCC has “one of the best, most well-rounded curriculums” in terms of wind power technology. He said the company would be looking to hire NMCC wind power technology graduates.
Mike Ireland of Larkin Enterprises said NMCC’s program is “quite impressive.”
Caleb Roy, a representative from Cianbro, said he saw “lots of enthusiasm from the wind power technology students and faculty,” adding that everyone involved in the program takes pride in what they are doing.
Dutil, who came from Winslow to enroll in the wind power technology program, spent years as a welder until the economy faltered. He worked on a project that tied into the wind power industry and decided turbines were “the ticket to a secure future.” He is spending the summer interning with Larkin Enterprises, and when he graduates in May 2011, he will be the first in his family to earn a college degree.
He praised the college, its faculty and staff, and the companies for their support, promising that NMCC students will be effective workers.
Brad Therrien, another student in the program, will be an intern with Cianbro this summer. He said the solid NMCC curriculum prepared him well for the opportunity, with its focus on fundamentals and safety protocols practiced by the industry.
Demand for the wind power technology program has exceeded expectations. Today, the college has 36 students enrolled and more than 50 qualified applicants for the 18 available slots next fall.
Aside from the wind power technology curriculum, the college is working diligently to move forward in other academic areas that will have significant impact on leading the state toward a more “green” future. NMCC recently was awarded a grant from Efficiency Maine in recognition of its work to build a green work force in the areas of building science, residential construction, plumbing and heating, and wind power.
Before the ceremony ended, NMCC President Tim Crowley wished the interns good luck this summer.
“Wind power is moving forward, and Aroostook County has a great future in wind power and alternative energy,” he said Tuesday. “We are moving in the right direction.”