From its humble beginnings in Pincher Creek to recent national recognition, Lethbridge College’s Wind Turbine Technician program is poised to become an international wind-energy academy.
Overcoming Canada’s dependency on petroleum has become a towering challenge, one in which Lethbridge College has become a central player in the last four years. Since it set up its initial Wind Turbine Technician training program in 2005, the college has gained international recognition, both for the quality of its curriculum and its leadership in the field.
“The wind industry is amazed at what we have here,” says Suzanne Flannigan, Lethbridge College’s dean in the Centre for Applied Management. “We were a best-kept secret, but now we’re endeavouring to let everyone know what we can provide.
We have committed and passionate people involved who have galvanized the entire area.”
One of the committed is John Vermeer (Renewable Resource Management ’77), the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board’s 2003 choice as best instructor in southern Alberta. Vermeer and colleague Mike Wehrwein became early poster boys for Lethbridge College’s wind turbine program.
Trained in Germany as instructors to BZEE certification, they made the college the first in North America to offer a program recognized as meeting world standards.
BZEE, or Bildungszentrum für Erneuerbare Energien e.V., is the German organization formed by major wind power industry players in the country and is recognized as the Rolls Royce of training in the wind turbine industry. Train to BZEE standards, and you can work anywhere in the world.
“Manufacturers and wind farm developers are happy with us because our curriculum is industry-driven” says Vermeer. “Most colleges in the U.S. have never talked to industry and have no equipment on which to train.”
Lethbridge College bought nine nacels (the actual guts of the equipment), five towers and three blades from a decommissioned wind farm to use for hands-on training. It was a strategic move, because such items are now impossible to locate.
The college began the program as a cost-recovery venture rather than a credit program, and while that is changing, the financial possibilities still exist: a plan is in the works to ship one complete nacel to a college in Michigan, an institute that would pay to deliver the “made in southern Alberta” course to American students. Talks are also under way with colleges in
Saskatchewan, Ontario, British Columbia and Texas.
Employment in the wind-power industry is expected to grow rapidly; a chunk of the jobs it will create are centred on installation and repair, specialized training Lethbridge College delivers to some 32 students per course, twice a year. The 26-week course this fall and the first intake for 2010 were filled months ago.
Once taught in the college’s animal husbandry facility on the Jail Road, the course hopes to move into the Trades Wing on campus, but space and trained instructors still limit student numbers. A third instructor has been hired and will be sent to Germany for BZEE training. “We’re trying to grow in step with industry needs,” says Vermeer.