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Wind energy brings jobs to ND

Wind energy brings jobs to state

Submitted Photo Michael Griffin and Reed Neset, wind technician students in the Neset program, stand atop the GE 1.6 MW turbine at Lake Region State College during training in June.

When falling commodity prices shook the oil industry earlier this year, oilfield company Neset Consulting took stock of the energy market in North Dakota and saw a diversification opportunity with wind.

Partnering with Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, Neset Consulting launched an extension of the school’s wind technician training program at its Tioga facility in June.

Among the first students looking to graduate in August is Michael Griffin, 31, of Minot, who has worked for Neset about five years, doing geology-based mud-bogging on the rigs and specializing in gas detection.

“With the price of oil right now and the COVID issues, this seemed like a good opportunity to learn a new skill and be able to utilize both of them, depending on which side of the industry needs more help,” Griffin said. “This is something that’s never going to go away. The wind is always going to be there. It seemed to me like it’s an extremely secure position to be trained in and it’s very diverse.”

Powering North Dakota, an initiative of the American Wind Energy Association, has thrown its support behind the Lake Region training program and its partnership with Neset. Powering North Dakota is a growing coalition of developers, manufacturers, business, agriculture and community members with a focus on the economic benefits of wind power. The coalition’s goal is to share research, talk about the local benefits and tell the story of wind and its impact on different areas of the economy.

Submitted Photo Students in a wind technician program learn ladder safety in the Neset program in Tioga.

The coalition notes “wind technician” recently was labeled the second fastest growing career by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. AWEA, the national association, reports the U.S. wind industry directly employs 120,000 Americans in jobs ranging from wind technicians to factory workers, engineers, finance experts and construction workers.

Started in 2009, the Wind Energy Technician Program at Lake Region offers students the option of completing a one-year certificate program or a two-year associate in applied science degree. The campus has a 1.67-megawatt turbine used in training that provides services to the campus.

The typical class size is 10 students per semester, and students can enroll starting in either the spring or fall semester. The program has received 14 applications and has registered five students so far for the fall of 2020.

Neset is sponsoring seven students who are currently training in its facility. Other employers are being recruited to sponsor tuition for other applicants to the Neset program. The accelerated program provides certification for operation and maintenance of wind turbines, with about 20% of training completed with the Lake Region turbine in Devils Lake.

Neset anticipates putting its first class of graduates on Aug. 21 directly to work. They are earning certificates in four areas – wind energy technician competent rescuer, qualified electrical worker, first aid/CPR/AED and Federal Aviation Administration 107 drone preparation.

“They would certainly be competent and know their way around both safetywise and knowing all the equipment on a wind turbine when they are done,” said Joe Griffin, operations manager at Neset Consulting. “It’s good for everybody. It’s good for the student. It’s good for the wind industry. It’s good for the individual companies that sponsor them.”

Griffin said Neset’s technical services in wind energy will complement the work the company already is doing in the oil and gas industry. Tioga is situated near the 75-turbine Lindahl wind farm and the approximately 121 turbines that the Aurora Wind Project will have in place following ongoing construction.

“Operation and maintenance is a big piece of the business. Neset would like to be able to contract those services to the wind industry,” Griffin said.

Jobs are just one economic benefit of wind energy.

Nationally each year, wind projects pay more than $900 million in taxes and about $700 million to landowners as lease payments, according to AWEA. Those payments are helping keep agricultural producers on the land and enable local governments to keep schools open or invest in roads and other infrastructure, said John Hensley, vice president of research and analytics with AWEA.

Additionally, wind power provides environmental benefits.

“In 2019, we saw projects avoid nearly 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent to taking about 42 million cars off the road,” Hensley said.

“Looking forward, there’s more to come. We are seeing over 44 gigawatts of wind power that’s in the near-term pipeline,” he added. “That means more jobs, more economic investment, more investment in rural communities across the country and, of course, more clean energy for the grid.”

The American Wind Energy Association reports wind energy achieved two milestones in 2019 in exceeding more than 100 gigawatts of installed capacity and overtaking hydropower as the largest source of renewable energy in the United States.

The nation’s capacity to generate electricity from wind rose 9.6% over 2018. There’s enough wind power to supply more than 7% of the country’s electricity, meeting the electricity needs of 32 million homes, according to the association. Wind is on track to meet 20% of the country’s electrical demand by 2030.

North Dakota has seen the trend and jumped on board.

Nearly 27% of power generated in North Dakota comes from wind turbines, which is fourth highest in the nation behind Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma. If all the wind energy produced in North Dakota were consumed in North Dakota, it would account for more than 50% of a consumer’s electrical supply.

Around 16% of Verendrye Electric’s power comes from wind, the cooperative reports. Another 10% comes from hydropower.

About 15% of Xcel Energy’s electrical supply in the Upper Midwest during 2019 came from wind, according to the company. When adding hydropower, solar and nuclear energy, more than half the energy supplied to customers in 2019 was from carbon-free sources. Xcel is pursuing a vision for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.

Xcel is building or has recently completed 12 new wind projects in the Upper Midwest, adding enough electricity to power nearly a million average homes each year. As new projects come online, Xcel projects by 2022 to have more than 30% of its energy in the region come from wind.

Wind Facts:

– U.S. wind energy set a new generation record for a single month in April 2019, supplying 29.7 million megawatt hours. This record is more than the total wind energy generation during all of 2006.

– In 2005, wind energy generated just 0.4% of the U.S. power mix. Today, wind power contributes 7.2%.

– Across 33 states, 191 wind projects are in the works, representing $62 billion in investments. They will generate enough electricity to power another 15 million American homes.

– North Dakota was one of five states to achieve one-year growth rates in wind capacity of at least 15% in 2019. The state added 473 megawatts.

– North Dakota ranks ninth among wind power-producing states with 3,628 megawatts of installed capacity. Wind accounts for 26.8% of the state’s electrical generation.

– North Dakota wind projects paid $12 million in taxes and $22 million in annual land lease payments in 2019.

Source: American Wind Energy Association

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