By DR. MICHAEL CHIPPS
Northeast Community College president

Northeast Community College offers several stellar programs and concentrations, however, one of them literally rises above the rest.

Sitting high above the Norfolk campus stands a 100-kilowatt, fully functioning wind turbine that was erected in 2011. It is located among the college’s working farm fields, which is becoming more of a common scene across the Midwest.

Occasionally we are asked why the turbine isn’t always turning. The Micon 108 (Vestas) turbine not only serves as a renewable energy source on campus, but its blades need to stop spinning at times since it is also a working and breathing lab for our wind energy technology students. Northeast is the only college or university in the state to offer an associate of applied science degree and diploma program in this field.

The turbine, which is 110 feet tall, including an 80-foot tower and three blades, has allowed our students opportunities to routinely climb, rappel and maintain the structure. It also permits them to learn the process for safety rescue. Although the tower is 200 feet shorter than a commercial turbine, it operates similarly.

The roots of the wind energy technology program at Northeast began in 2005. Since its inception, the program has expanded from a single class into a diploma; and then was developed into an associate degree program. The college’s program advisory committee and leaders in Nebraska’s wind energy industry requested that Northeast expand the skill levels of graduates — and Northeast promptly answered the call.

As wind turbines continue to cover the countryside, technicians are even more vital in the installation and maintenance of these sophisticated machines.

Since its beginning, Northeast has had 57 individuals, both men and women, graduate from its wind energy technology program.

As Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning mentioned in a recent column in the Daily News, wind farms are providing an economic boost to this region of Nebraska by creating a larger tax base and more job opportunities.

Our graduates now in the profession are telling us the same thing. Wind farms in Northeast Nebraska have allowed many of our graduates to remain close to home while earning exceptional income. Of the 57 graduates, all but twenty are employed in Nebraska, with 89 percent of them working in the industry. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the wind energy technology program, students learn a high level of hydraulics, electrical concepts, welding and mechanics, which allows them to also pursue other industrial maintenance related careers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median pay for wind technicians in 2016 was $52,260 annually or $25.13 an hour.

Harnessing the wind has been around for generations. Early settlers used windmills to pump water from their hand-dug wells, a practice that is still used today to some extent. The 21st century wind mill reflects the time we live in; 300-foot wind generators that seamlessly flow across the land providing a renewable, clean energy to power our homes, businesses and industries.

Who does the industry count on to provide these uniquely qualified employees? To paraphrase the legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” However, the best response is being educated at your Northeast Community College.

Original article posted in Norfolk Daily News