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New option for renewable energy industry
Photos and Story by James Hill
With the impending construction of a huge wind farm and big interest in alternative energy, Portland Community College is responding with a new option to its existing Electronic Engineering Technology associate’s degree.
The Renewable Energy Systems option, which recently was approved by the state, prepares technicians to work in the maintenance of all renewable energy systems, including solar, fuel cell and wind manufacturing industries. This option is similar to the one at Columbia Gorge Community College and shares some courses. Students will get a chance to experience what it is like to be a technician in these fields, including having a chance to climb one of the windmills at the farm.
"This is the most comprehensive renewable energy systems training offering in the state of Oregon," said Sanda Williams, instructor in Electronic Engineering Technology. "Graduates can work in any of the areas and we have classes that they can take at different campuses. We are dedicated to serving the community and industry in the best possible way to direct students to jobs that remain local. We have great faculty and plenty of services. We are excited about what we’ve done here."
Three years ago, the Electronic Engineering program, based at the Sylvania Campus (12000 S.W. 49th Ave.) was going through a reinvention of its curriculum, eventually adding Biomedical Engineering and Wireless and Data Communication Engineering Technology options. More information about these new options can be found on the Electronic Engineering Technology (EET) program page.
But industry leaders mentioned the need for qualified technicians in renewable energies as well.
"The option has been very well received by the local industry and our community, and it is a timely and welcomed response to the energy situation confronting us," said John McKee, dean of the Science and Engineering Division at Sylvania.
The need is clear. Portland General Electric, an investor-owned utility that serves the majority of Oregon customers in the Portland metropolitan area, is actively building one of the larger wind farms in the state. The Biglow Canyon Wind Farm, located within Sherman County (in North Central Oregon), will have 217 turbines with a total installed capacity of 450 megawatts. One of the critical issues for PGE and other wind farm owners is an acute shortage of workers: it takes one wind turbine technician to service every 10 turbines. For the Biglow project alone, PGE estimates it needs more than 22 wind technicians plus about 10 management and support workers when fully built out.
"Regionally, the projected need for wind turbine technicians is over 300 in the next five years," said Gary Hackett, plant manager of PGE’s Biglow Canyon Wind Farm. "As the demand for new wind projects continues to increase, as driven by customer demand and regulatory requirements, the need for new wind turbine technicians will continue to be high. One of the problems is a lack of training programs to meet the present needs. From my perspective, the community colleges that can offer wind technician training programs will play a critical role to help meet the increasing demand for wind turbine."
PCC responds to alternative energy industry needs
PCC has partnered with some big businesses to provide short-term training and to create degree option programs to meet long-term training needs. For SolarWorld AG, the college’s Customized and Workplace Training division developed a train-the-trainer class to help SolarWorld technicians learn to be effective managers. Also, the Microelectronics program developed a solar option to create a pipeline of qualified solar maintenance technicians.
The college was the recipient of a three-year, $698,095 National Science Foundation grant to infuse content, practices, tools and techniques into PCC programs that impact building construction.
Also, the Sylvania Campus Automotive Service program will host an alternative vehicle fair on Oct. 3 for the public. Many of the students in the program are getting important training on hybrids to meet the needs of auto dealerships in the region. And the Rock Creek Campus won "Recycler of the Year" honors through the Association of Oregon Recyclers.