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News / Business / Clark County Business

Northwest Renewable Energy Institute’s new campus has training structure that simulates working on wind turbines

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 26, 2023, 6:08am
7 Photos
Instructor Tom Bauras, left in black shirt, works with students including Alex Thompson, center, while simulating a cross haul during safety training at the new Northwest Renewable Energy Institute campus in Vancouver on Dec. 20. The business built a new facility on Fruit Valley Road that teaches students how to work on wind turbines.
Instructor Tom Bauras, left in black shirt, works with students including Alex Thompson, center, while simulating a cross haul during safety training at the new Northwest Renewable Energy Institute campus in Vancouver on Dec. 20. The business built a new facility on Fruit Valley Road that teaches students how to work on wind turbines. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Northwest Renewable Energy Institute opened a second campus earlier this year on Fruit Valley Road in Vancouver with a new 20-foot indoor tower that simulates the experience of working on a wind turbine.

Students start the certification program offered by the International Air and Hospitality Academy near East Mill Plain and Grand boulevards by learning climbing and safety precautions, such as how to move an injured person safely within a wind turbine.

“With the type of job that these guys end up having, there’s plenty of opportunities for an injury to happen,” said Tom Bauras, an instructor at the school. “If they don’t understand the basics of how to safely climb and rescue, then they potentially could end up hurting themselves as well.”

The new training structure at the Fruit Valley campus will allow the school to pursue a certification from the Global Wind Organization, a governing body in the wind energy industry. Most of the program’s remaining coursework will still be held at the Mill Plain campus.

Students come from across the country to complete the six-month program.

Employers’ demand for wind turbine service technicians has grown a lot in the past, but it isn’t expected to boom over the next decade. Growth is expected to be just shy of 3 percent between 2020 to 2030, according to the Washington Employment Security Department.

Starting wages, however, have increased. The state employment department estimates that technicians earn $61,350 annually on average.

Bauras said some students enter the training program with little to no climbing experience or never having picked up a wrench. Classes, which begin six times per year, usually have about 20 students.

“This really gives them an edge over a lot of people that might just be trying to get a job off the street,” Bauras said.

The program integrates theory but also gives students hands-on experience.

“So when they get out to the field, it’s not like they’re being introduced to these types of subjects for the very first time,” said Bauras, who graduated from the institute in 2014.

The new climbing structure is meant to simulate working on a wind turbine, with the top structure resembling the shape and size of some wind turbines. Some turbines are much bigger.

With the new facility and its new climbing structure, instructors can put students in more realistic climbing situations than possible on the old climbing structure.

D.J. Schmidt, president and CEO of the International Air and Hospitality Academy, said the renewable energy program attracts wind energy companies looking to hire. Many will be giving presentations at the school and interviewing soon-to-be graduates over the next few months.

“That’s really what it’s all about — getting them trained, helping him find a job in industry,” Schmidt said.

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