Wind technician instructor Wayne Kilcollins (middle) goes over the mechanics of wind turbines inside the wind technician classroom at Northern Maine Community College in March 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Kari Herer

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Northern Maine Community College will use $2.2 million in federal funds to expand its wind technician program in Aroostook County and in southern Maine.

The college will launch a wind industry safety training program in Presque Isle and join with Maine Maritime Academy in Castine to train offshore technicians. 

Demand has grown for wind industry workers, with offshore projects in the works in Searsport, the Gulf of Maine and South Portland. Two new Aroostook County developments will open up more wind industry jobs, and the college plans to be at the forefront by becoming the first certified safety trainer on the East Coast. 

“​​This program will help grow Maine’s wind power workforce, which is essential to addressing climate change and developing a clean energy economic force for Maine and beyond,” Northern Maine Community College President Tim Crowley said.

The money was earmarked in the federal funding bill announced in December by Maine’s congressional delegation.

The college will become the first internationally certified wind power safety training provider in the northeastern U.S., according to the Maine Community College System.

Maine has focused on developing renewable energy for many years, but both onshore and offshore wind power have taken some giant steps forward, Crowley said.

The state recently received a surprise investment from Massachusetts in the King Pines wind project at Number Nine Mountain in Aroostook County, near Mars Hill. The Maine Public Utilities Commission has approved that and another large project in Aroostook County.

Demand for wind technicians will likely grow rapidly, as it did when Mars Hill Mountain’s wind facility was constructed 15 years ago, Crowley said. One technician will be needed for every three to four wind turbines. 

Along with training students to work in the industry, the college will build a directory of certified wind power technicians that companies can access. It’s difficult to find people who have the necessary certifications, Crowley said.

The college must submit final paperwork to receive the funding within the next five to six months.

The money will be split between the safety training in Presque Isle and a collaboration with Maine Maritime Academy in Castine for offshore wind technician training.

“The challenge that [Maine Maritime Academy] will have is the safety training needed for people who are going to move workers from the shore to offshore wind turbines,” Crowley said. 

That’s where the community college’s program comes in.

The college is obtaining the equipment it needs to teach the class with money from last year’s omnibus spending plan. The college received $988,000 for the first phase of its safety program expansion, which trains participants using Wind Globalization Standards.

Phase two includes the collaboration between the college and Maine Maritime Academy. Lectures will be available online, but Presque Isle staff will set up more hands-on training to be offered at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.

Wayne Kilcollins, who worked in wind power for the past 10 years, will instruct the course. Students will complete the program in a year, and certification will take three to four weeks, college officials said.