Northern Maine Community College Wind Faculty member Wayne Kilcollins going over the technical aspects of wind turbines in his technician lab in Presque Isle on March 15. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Prospective wind power technicians can access training for $1,000 thanks to a new scholarship program at Northern Maine Community College.

Earlier this year the college received $2.2 million in federal funds to expand its wind power safety training. Now a recurring annual fund of $50,000 from anonymous donors will provide tuition assistance.

The scholarships will aid people priced out of college, and will help meet the high demand for qualified and certified wind power technicians in Maine. Offshore projects are in the works in Searsport, the Gulf of Maine and South Portland, and two Aroostook County developments will open up more industry jobs.

“The reason for the scholarship is that people believe what we are doing is important for the environment, it’s important for the economic development of the region,” college President Timothy Crowley said. “Basically it helps address the climate change issues that we have [and] helps address the workforce challenges we have with renewable energy.”

Wind technician salaries run from $40,000 to $70,000 per year, and students at the college can receive a significant amount of training in nine months, Crowley said.

The funds will allow students to live on campus for the nine-month program. Books and tools are included and graduates will receive wind turbine service credentials.

The amount was decided on based on the capacity of the wind turbine program and the needs of the students, according to Griffin Goins, dean of development and public affairs.

“In order to use up this scholarship and take advantage of this, the best opportunity would be for students to live on campus,” Goins said. “It allows students from away to come here.”

The college is working with ENSA North America of Mukmonago, Wisconsin, to obtain Global Wind Organization safety education certification. ENSA provides training, safety and rigging equipment for wind power, telecommunications and other industries.

ENSA representatives recently visited the Presque Isle campus to evaluate their facilities.

“There are a lot of onshore and offshore projects that the companies are looking for to get their [Global Wind Organization] certification and they would have to be sending them away,” said Wayne Kilcollins, wind technician program instructor. 

Lectures are available online but the program requires hands-on training in campus labs, Kilcollins said. The basic wind turbine certification covers electrical, hydraulic and mechanical properties of turbines along with technical skills needed to work at required heights.

Some program graduates have gone on to be wind technicians at Mars Hill, Oakfield and Stetsen. They range in age between 16 and 64.

When students graduate the college’s safety-minded program, their skill levels are higher than those of a basic wind technician and they can be sought for more advanced work, Kilcollins said.

One of the recent improvements being incorporated into wind turbines is direct drive systems to replace the large gearboxes that need the most amount of maintenance, he said. The direct drive goes to a much larger generator, about 30 feet in diameter, to produce the same frequency of output.

Around six students have already signed up for the 18 slots available in the program. The campus plans to expand the capacity once it hires another faculty member.

Northern Maine Community College will talk next week with the University of Vermont about wind power education and training, Crowley said.