Confronted with decreased employment opportunities, the loss of family farms, and the closure of the region’s largest employer, Loring Air Force Base, higher education and business partners in a rural region in Maine understand that active collaboration is the only way to survive. With Northern Maine Community College (NMCC) at the center, their partnership is building an economy anchored in alternative energy with a workforce prepared for technological shifts. And, the College is set to build a world-class workforce with pivotal green industry skills.
In 2010, the Mobilize Northern Maine partnership launched a comprehensive planning process involving representatives from the regional development commission, workforce development system, business community, nonprofits, government, and higher education. The plan identified renewable energy technology as a key industry cluster to target and forecasted regional training and skill needs.
As a strategic convener, NMCC hosts many of the collaborative meetings organized by the Northern Maine Development Commission. NMCC views the development of alternative energy resources in northern Maine as the key to future regional economic development.
“We are committed to supporting and leading economic development efforts in northern Maine,” said NMCC President Timothy Crowley. “That leadership manifests itself in the building of networks and relationships that help better address expansion of our economy in very challenging times. We are focusing our efforts and resources on the opportunities the future holds in our region’s natural resources.”
The Mobilize Northern Maine partnership is moving aggressively on several fronts to expand biomass conversion, small and large wind installations, and financing structures to support energy efficient modifications in the region — and keep energy dollars in the state. According to the Maine Department of Conservation, just “22 percent of each dollar spent on heating oil remains in the regional economy, while 100 percent of money spent on regionally produced wood pellets benefits the regional economy.” In addition, “producing and burning an additional 300,000 tons of wood pellets each year could generate $150 million in benefits for Maine in harvesting revenue, lower heating costs, and local spending.” Capitalizing on the region’s renewable wind and biomass energy will not only keep money circulating in the local economy, but also create about 230 area jobs and reduce overall energy costs.
The partnership’s planning model fuels economic development through the business and higher education communities working to create innovative residential and commercial renewable energy markets, products, and businesses. NMCC’s workforce training and renewable energy programs are fundamental components of the plan.
NMCC has taken the lead in cultivating a well-educated and trained workforce to grow the region’s emerging wind industry. This is done through a truly integrated effort with the Mobilize Northern Maine economic development organization.
Lead faculty member Wayne Kilcollins created a wind power technician program dependent on industry partners such as Vestas, Larkin Enterprises, Reed and Reed, Cianbro, Sullivan and Merritt, and General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works. The Wind Power Technician program is a 71-credit AAS degree that offers broad fundamental training in the electrical, electronic, and mechanical aspects of the wind power industry, with a focus on wind turbine maintenance and electrical power production. It’s the first of its kind at a post-secondary institution in New England, accommodating 18 students per class with a waiting list for interested applicants.
The program aims to position graduates to demonstrate in-depth understanding of the conceptual foundations of wind energy, electricity and electronics, and the mechanical, electrical, and control systems and sub-systems common to modern wind turbines. In addition, faculty provide students with exposure to the business side of the sector, incorporating marketing and finance competencies so that students can leverage their skills to move up within an organization beyond an entry-level or technician position.
Key to NMCC’s program is the incorporation of business and education best practices. With state economic developers and industry, Kilcollins attended the governor’s renewable energy trade mission to Spain and Germany in 2009. The focus of the visit was to pair Maine companies involved in the wind power industry chain with other industry contacts, investors, educators, and potential suppliers. The mission gave NMCC direct insight into global industry workforce needs, emerging technologies, and opportunities for curriculum benchmarking and possible alternative energy research collaborations with a German university. An added benefit of participation in the mission was the opportunity to identify internship and job placement prospects for NMCC students.
In May 2011 NMCC graduated the first class of 14 wind power technicians placing almost all of the graduates in regional wind power companies.
In collaboration with the city of Presque Isle, NMCC is further supporting the region’s renewable energy economy with a 7,800-square-foot Renewable Energy Center of Excellence in an industrial park close to the campus. The facility has classroom and hands-on laboratory space for wind technology, solar, biomass and residential energy efficiency projects. Beginning in the fall 2011 semester, a $55,000 residential 10-kilowatt wind turbine is being used by students in the wind power technology and other academic programs that incorporate alternative energy into the curriculum. Plans include facility expansion to provide small business incubator space as well.
The college has secured more than $2 million in public and private investment and is planning to train approximately 75 students per year through both its academic programs and continuing education opportunities.
“Our efforts to provide leadership through the Mobilize Northern Maine initiative have allowed us to sharpen our focus on the potential and demand for a greener workforce,” said President Crowley. “We are tapping into the strong work ethic in our region and the commitment and pride in quality work and using that as a platform to introduce the technology and education needed to align the development of the region and its strong natural resource base. We are excited about the potential this has for the development of alternative energy resources and the rebirth of a strong manufacturing base in northern Maine.”
- CLICK HERE for more information about the NMCC Wind Power Technology Program
- Contact Instructor Wayne Kilcollings: firstname.lastname@example.org
- CLICK HERE for more information about Mobilize Northern Main
- The Northern Maine Development Commission and Aroostook Partnership for Progress Aroostook County, Maine Renewable Energy Industry Cluster Opportunity Analysis (June 25, 2010) can be found by CLICKING HERE.