Iowa college helps meet demand of expanding wind energy industry

Iowa college helps meet demand of expanding wind energy industry

Photo courtesy of KTIV

When you turn on a light in Iowa, there's a three-in-10 chance that the electricity powering the bulb came from a wind turbine.

The American Wind Energy Association says, in 2016, Iowa's 3,965 wind turbines provided 36.5 percent of all in-state electricity production. In neighboring South Dakota, it's a little less – 30.3 percent of all in-state electricity production in 2016, reports television station KTIV.

And, in Nebraska, in 2016, wind turbines generated about 10-percent of the state's electricity.

Those turbines, and the turbines that are being planned, or built, need to be tended by trained workers. Some of the most qualified come from Iowa.

"We go to the No. 1 program in the United States for wind energy," said Avery Nelson, Iowa Lakes Community College sophomore. Nelson came to Iowa Lakes, from Onawa, Iowa, to wrestle.

"But I got a career," he said.

When he graduates, Nelson will climb to new heights as a wind energy and turbine technician.

"Right now, everyone is looking for someone to work for them," said Wyatt Harris, Iowa Lakes Community College sophomore.

Those job opportunities led Harris to switch majors – from electrical engineering to wind energy, and schools – from Iowa State to Iowa Lakes, shortly before his freshman year.

Engineering Technology Program Coordinator Chad Tischer graduated from Iowa Lakes 20 years ago and has watched wind energy grow from a pipedream to a predictable source of energy. He's also watched the Iowa Lakes program prosper.

Program coordinators say graduates of the Iowa Lakes program can write their own ticket. That's because wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing occupation in country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dan Lutat, Iowa Lakes Community College director for sustainable energy resources and technologies, said the exponential growth in the wind energy industry gets the credit for higher salaries.

"$50,000 to $90,000 walking out the door with a two-year degree has been a long-time coming in the United States," he said.

It also gets credit for the glut of good jobs for graduates. "Our national goal – of 20 percent of our national energy from wind energy—is a 2030 goal," said Lutat. "So, in the next 13 years, we have to add another 250,000 jobs to this job field."

Iowa Lakes graduates don't have to go far to find a job. Windtest North-America, which builds systems that measure all aspects of wind turbines, is in the same building on campus.

"Across the hall their learning everything from the wind technician program to the automation," said Jacob Wittkamp, Windtest North-America Inc. technician. "We're building a lot of electronics, so it's a great fit."

Iowa's wind energy industry has come a long way in a short amount of time. In 2005, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack signed a key state law to provide the first tax credits for renewable energy production. That same year, the state's first wind turbine manufacturer opened in Cedar Rapids.


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