WINDSOR, Ont. – The air may have come out of a new wind turbine program at St. Clair College even before getting off the ground.
The college needs $1 million to launch a wind turbine technician program, which administrators hope will provide workers for a burgeoning North American industry.
Rob Chittim, chairman of the school of skilled trades at St. Clair, said if money comes through soon, the program could start in September 2012.
“We’re basically waiting on funding,” said Chittim, noting that the school has already received government approval for the courses.
St. Clair needs to purchase a 20-to 25-metre outdoor training tower, plus harnesses, blades and other equipment to install on its South Windsor campus.
Though Chittim said the school has already received interest from potential students – for a program that would accept between 24 and 32 applicants a year – the field is hardly for everybody.
Wind turbine technicians can’t be afraid of heights, since they sometimes climb more than 100 metres. They can’t suffer motion sickness, since the towers move in the wind. They can’t be claustrophobic, since they work in tight quarters in the nacelle, the housing that holds the generator and sensors. They must essentially be electricians and millwrights. And they must be fit.
“It’s a young man’s game, because industry requirements are that you are able to climb five 100-metre towers a day,” said Chittim, noting that one climb can take perhaps 20 minutes. “So that’s half a kilometre up and half a kilometre down, lifting your own body weight as well as equipment and seasonal clothing such as hard hats and work boots.”
Students not only learn electrical and related skills, but practice self and buddy rescues, and tower rappelling.
Chittim said the base wages for a wind-turbine technician range between $20 and $28 an hour, with bump-ups for working odd hours. Many windturbine technicians remain on call 24 hours a day.
But Chittim considers the job perfectly safe with properly maintained equipment and well-trained workers.
Though the school won’t have an actual wind turbine, Chittim said the training tower will provide everything required to learn. Anyone using the facility will be tethered at all times.
School officials hope to forge an agreement between the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and industry partners.
He said the training tower could also help industry professionals looking to upgrade or refresh their credentials.
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