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New wind energy program booming

Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tapping in to Wyoming’s most abundant natural resource
While many Wyomingites curse the wind, Laramie County Community College is harnessing its power. This fall, LCCC launched its new wind energy technician program.
The program was established under the leadership of Mike Schmidt, a former instructor and program coordinator at Iowa Lakes Community College, the country’s most recognized institution for wind technician programs.
“One of the things I think the college had insight into was recognizing the growth in the industry of wind energy,” Schmidt said of the establishment of the program. “Wyoming has always been an energy exporter, traditionally with oil, natural gas and coal, but this is just one more form of energy the state has in abundance.”
As one of only a dozen colleges in the country to offer a wind energy program, LCCC will help fill the industry’s need for qualified technicians. As wind turbines continue to be more sophisticated than ever before, Schmidt said he is dedicated to training technicians who are well-versed in a number of areas, including power electronics, basic electricity and hydraulic systems.
“The program is designed to recognize and address the skill set needed for individuals who are interested in working in this field on utility-scale machines,” Schmidt said. “Students will be able to understand the machine inside and out, understand the systems, do the repairs, and do the services required.”
Although it’s only a start-up program, LCCC has already received a great deal of financial support and equipment donations. On top of a grant from the National Science Foundation, which will continue to play a significant role in the development of the program, Schmidt said one of the biggest donations came in the form of a wind turbine nacelle from GCube Insurance. After receiving the nacelle, the Walter Scott Foundation made a donation that allowed the college to build the Turbine Nacelle Lab which will house the donated turbine and the Climber Safety Lab which will allow students to learn how to safely work at heights exceeding 250 feet.
Additional gifts have come from Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power who supplied the department with high-voltage electrical training, and Duke Energy has contributed scholarship funds as well as a wind turbine blade. They have also given students the opportunity to make their initial climb up a 250-foot wind turbine. “I think it’s very important for students to get up and do a climb as early in the program as possible because some students don’t realize the challenge.”
With 21 full-time students and two part-time students currently enrolled in LCCC’s program, Schmidt expects growth in the future, but thinks it will take at least five years to fully develop the program. While he wants to see enrollment increase annually, his main goal will be providing the best education for his students. “I want students to make the connection between what it is they’re learning in this program and what it is they’re going to do in the industry,” he said. “When they leave here, I want them to be confident that they can do this job.”

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