State government, Iowa colleges and representatives of the wind energy industry have formed an "Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation." Governor Chet Culver says a new website — www.iawind.org — has been created to serve as a clearinghouse.
"Through research, innovative public policies, training and education, and expanding our testing facilities — the alliance will meet the goal to help us create 25 percent of Iowa’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025," Culver says.
Much of the group’s work, though, centers on education as the three, state-supported universities and five of Iowa’s 15 area community colleges expand programs to train students who’ll land jobs in the wind energy industry. Al Zeitz, the lead instructor for the wind energy program at Iowa Lakes Community College, says working on a wind turbine is different than maintaining or fixing other turbines.
"Knowledge of aerodynamics, for example, would help. There’s a lot of different technologies that kind of merge together in the wind industry. We need to know a little bit about hydraulics, high-voltage electricity, low-voltage electricity electronics, composites, fiber glass," he says. "There are a lot of little things that are pulled together in this industry and that makes technicians working on wind turbines unique."
Iowa Lakes Community College graduates with a two-year associates degree can earn about 60-thousand dollars a year once they land a job working on wind turbines. Iowa Lakes Community College had 14 students enrolled in a program that trains folks to fix and maintain wind turbines in 2004. This past fall, there were over 100 applicants for the program.Barry Butler, dean of the University of Iowa’s engineering program, says his institution hopes to be actively involved in research for the companies that’re building wind turbines in Iowa.
"We have a youth base in this state that is incredibly interested in wind energy and they are hungry for the academic programs. They are hungry for going to work in this business and it’s really amazing when you talk to them," Butler says.
Tom Shih, chair of Iowa State University’s aerospace engineering program, agrees. "Meeting our country and our world’s growing needs for energy in a clean and sustainable manner is probably the most important challenge for this century," he says.