Renewables, Wind

Holding the Lions at Bay

Issue 3 and Volume 112.

With wind generation growing so fast, finding technicians to build wind farms is tough, said Jason Martinson, who is supervising work on the 56-turbine Smoky Hills Wind Farm in Kansas for Enel North America. “You get one year’s worth of experience, and it’s like dog years.”

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Tech supply lags demand in part because the wind industry boom is so new. The oldest independent training programs are less than five years old.

At Columbia Gorge Community College in Oregon, seven wind companies are working as academic advisers. Several companies are offering financial support, including AES Corp. and PPM Energy.

“They are all just crammed to the gills with students,” said Jeremy Norton of PPM Energy. “We’re accepting a lot of people with technical skills that don’t have wind experience. But if you have technical skills and wind experience, you can pretty much write your own ticket in the industry and go anywhere you want to go.”

Techs with no training reportedly can earn $15 to $20 an hour. Wind energy program grads can make $20 to $25 an hour. Trained techs can quickly become supervisors, earning north of $25 an hour.

Competitive? You bet. On the first day of classes at Columbia Gorge, one of the wind companies came to speak and two students left that afternoon with job offers.

“We’ve told them since that day, no more,” said Tom Lieurance, an instructor. “We are going to wait ‘til spring before I let any more hungry lions in to get my students.”

Wind: The Latest Four-Letter Word

Coal plant developers take heart: It isn’t just you the public sometimes loves to hate. Some folks hate wind power, too.

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Case in point: An estimated 500 people packed a public hearing in Western Maryland recently to protest a plan to build wind turbines in state forests. Pennsylvania-based U.S. Wind Force wanted to lease 400 acres to build 100 wind turbines.

After more than a dozen irate Western Marylanders spoke out against the plan, the company’s spokesman rose to speak, but was taunted, whistled at and shouted down.

One resident told a reporter, “Yes, we need green energy. But green is a relative concept… They (the wind turbines) are not green in the environmental degradation that will result.”

Another person compared wind turbines to a scar cutting through the forest. “This is going to be an open scar…This is going to be a big scar, a big three-bladed sucker looking at you every morning.” Of course, powering the TV and the toaster.

Foreign Share of U.S.-based Power Plants

The share of United States electric power generation capacity owned by foreign companies rose in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration. EIA says foreign entities now own 3.4 percent of U.S. generating units, or nearly 33,000 MW. In 2004 the ownership share was 3.3 percent. In 2003 it was 3.2 percent.

EIA said units of EPCOR Utilities (Canada) had the largest increase in 2005, all of it from its purchase of a controlling interest in a limited partnership called TransCanada Power. Canadian company TransCanada sold that interest, but boosted its total U.S. capacity by buying 567 MW of hydroelectric in New England from National Energy & Gas Transmission.

Brookfield Asset Management (Canada) bought four hydroelectric stations and, along with Emera (Canada), a pumped storage hydroelectric generating station.

Affiliates of SUEZ (France) brought online the first of two planned units of a 746 MW natural-gas-fired plant in Hot Springs, Ark. A non-regulated affiliate of E.On (Germany) sold its share of a generating plant in Texas during 2005, as E.On affiliates began exiting the non-regulated U.S. generation businesses.

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