A small rural town nestled along the historic Route 66 highway, Tucumcari, New Mexico, was long a destination for filming Hollywood westerns like Clint Eastwood's "Rawhide." Today it's on the verge of economic rebirth built around an emerging wind industry and the resourceful instruction of Mesalands Community College, home of the North American Wind Research and Training Center (NAWRTC)—the first partnership of its kind between a national energy laboratory and a two-year higher education institution in the country.
With an economy largely built on ranching and the trucking and rail industry, Tucumcari lost nearly half its population over the last 20 years as jobs in those sectors disappeared. In response, in 2004 the Mesalands Community College president urged the Governor to help the region capitalize on some of the best natural wind resources in the continental United States. The plan to lure the nascent energy industry to the region included two strategic objectives: attract professionals in wind energy production, research, and experimentation, and develop the capacity to train a workforce with the specific skills the wind industry demands.
Mesalands Community College designed wind energy technician training and certificate programs that create clear paths toward higher-wage jobs for area workers. The college is training electricians, engineering technicians, maintenance and repair technicians, and others to support the 22 wind farms that now dot the area landscape.
With the training infrastructure in place, Mesaland Community College and its partners secured a $2 million U.S. Department of Labor Community-Based Job Training grant and an additional $7 million from the state to support the development of a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine and a 30,000-square-foot research and training lab—NAWRTC—which opened its doors in September 2010.
Sandia National Laboratories, a government-owned/contractor-operated facility managed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, signed a memorandum of understanding—the first of its kind between a national laboratory and community college—that enables NAWRTC to collaborate on turbine operations and maintenance, reliability of turbine components, and repair methods.
With a new-generation turbine on campus and a research and teaching/learning lab ready to launch, the stage is set for Mesalands Community College to build a powerful renewable energy workforce. The college will play a central role in helping New Mexico to meet its renewable portfolio standard of 20% by 2020.
To learn more about Mesalands and the North American Wind Research and Training Center, please follow the links and contact information below:
North American Wind Research and Training Center under Construction - Completion September 2010
Jim Morgan, Director
North American Wind Research and Training Center
Mesalands Community College
575-461-4413, ext. 156 or 800-261-4877