Wind turbine maintenance

Maintenance technicians Brian Halstead, left, and Isaiah Skrdla pictured in front of wind turbines in 2013 at the Top of the World Windpower Project by Duke Energy near Glenrock, Wyoming. Wind manufacturing company Goldwind Americas and wind developer Viridis Eolia are offering free training to Wyoming workers, starting with July informational meetings across the state.

It’s no secret that Wyoming has recently faced a downturn in energy prices and that workers have lost jobs. The state is filled with people who have a specific skill set, such as facing potential hazards, working at great heights and handling electrical equipment. But when oil and gas production slows or coal mines cut back on production, the opportunity to utilize those skills goes down too.

Now, an international wind manufacturing company is hoping to convince the roughnecks, mechanics and coal miners of Wyoming to join its industry, betting on the growth of wind generation in the country and a number of wind projects slated to go up in the state.

Goldwind Americas, in partnership with wind developer Viridis Eolia, will offer free training to Wyoming’s workforce starting with three introductory sessions in mid-July in Rawlins, Casper and Gillette. The company also plans an upcoming tour of its wind farm near Shamut, Montana.

“We believe that folks that come from certain industries, fossil fuels, oil and gas, coal, they have skills that are transferrable to the wind industry,” said David Halligan, CEO of Goldwind Americas. “That’s why we’re offering the training and specifically why we are offering it in Wyoming.”

They are training people who could maintain a wind farm, technicians who respond to mechanical problems, install replacement parts and run the day-to-day operations at a large wind site.

Wind technician is the fastest growing occupation in the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wind energy technician field is projected to grow by 108 percent over the next 10 years.

Though wind is an intermittent source for electricity that only provides about 5 percent of the nation’s electricity generation, its rapid growth in recent years has challenged those who doubt its ability to contribute to the massive grid system that supplies power to the country. Wyoming has long been an energy provider and sends the majority of its coal and gas out of state to be used in power plants.

For Halligan, wind in Wyoming could play a similar role.

“Wyoming, of course, does not have a lot of people, so not a huge demand for electricity in Wyoming,” he said. “But given the right infrastructure in terms of electricity transmission down into California, which is a huge market, Wyoming could be the generation source.”

With the growth in the industry, the state would be wise to tap into that growth, whether for manufacturing or technician jobs, he said.

Goldwind has farms and operations on six continents, but the current interest is in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, where there has been an exponential increase, Halligan said.

In the first quarter of this year, 2,000 megawatts of wind power were added to the industry, a 385 percent increase since early 2016, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s quarterly report. For comparison, a 2 MW wind turbine can generate enough power to provide electricity for 350 homes for a year. That’s assuming that the turbine is only working at a fraction of its capacity because the wind doesn’t blow all day.

Developers are eager to carve out a position in the growing industry.

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Viridis Eolia is one of a handful of companies with large scale wind farms that could increase the state’s potential wind generation by 9,000 MW in the next five years. That would make Wyoming second only to Texas in wind capacity. The state is currently ranked 15th.

Viridis has partnered with Goldwind Americas to set up and maintain its proposed 1,780 MW farm in the Shirley Basin.

Ideally, Goldwind would have a team of workers based in Wyoming to service Viridis’ proposed wind farm, Halligan said.

“That’s why we are looking for the wind energy technicians, who would be the long-term workers supplying the labor to maintain the equipment,” he said.

Though wind farms are not associated with a bevy of long-term jobs like a coal mine provides, the Goldwin CEO expects more than a hundred people would need to be employed to maintain the Viridis wind farm.

“Not only do you need people out in the field that are troubleshooting if a part needs to get replaced, if they need to do routine maintenance, but then you have a whole logistics center,” he said. “You need to keep parts on hand. You need administrative people, safety people, trainers. It’s just a complete infrastructure of full-time, well-paid jobs with benefits.”

If things go as planned, many of those workers will come from Wyoming, thanks to the training seminars, he said.

“We are trying to be proactive,” Halligan said. “To get out there and create a win-win situation, where we can provide people who may be going through challenging times from an employment standpoint retraining. Hopefully as our projects come to fruition we could identify talented folks that could come to work for us.”

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