Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — New programs launched with local high schools, tech schools, and colleges and universities are aimed at riding the wave of offshore wind energy jobs expected in southern New England.
The "Wind Win RI" program begins this fall with classes at North Kingston High School and Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich. Urban school districts such as Pawtucket are expected to participate this school year or next. The New England Institute of Technology and the Community College of Rhode Island begin two-year technical degrees that offer wind-energy classes. The University of Rhode Island will incorporate offshore wind learning into four-year degrees and into its energy fellowship program.
Middle-school students will receive an introduction to the wind industry through the national Kid Wind program.
Through Wind Win RI, high-school students will graduate with an offshore wind energy certificate. Students will receive training in ocean studies, marine safety, and transportation. They will earn a launch driver's license and basic sea survival training. Internships will be offered with local marine businesses, and the Community College of Rhode Island is planning a wind turbine student competition.
The first-in-the-nation program includes the study of energy sources, marine transportation, engineering, government relations, and environmental impacts. The program is equivalent to nine college credits that are recognized by wind companies such as Deepwater Wind.
“If we are to meet the demands of the sector, our workforce must be empowered with the skill set required by this fast-emerging industry and career interest must be cultivated among out middle- and high-school students to fill the age gap left by our aging workforce,” said Kristin Urbach, executive director of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce.
The North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce leads the new programs by partnering with five wind-related businesses such as Vensys Energy and the Quonset Development Corporation.
“When this industry takes off there’s going to so much demand that there’s not going to be enough people to fill those jobs,” said Charles Donadio Jr., owner of the the ferry company Rhode Island Fast Ferry, one of the Wind Win RI employer partners.
Donadio's company transports vacationers to Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard. His boats also bring workers from Quonset Point to the Block Island Wind Farm. The company will help fishing boat captains earn license to operate ferry boats. Donadio has visited Europe three times to observe the wind industry and believes that there will be opportunities for hundreds of Rhode Island companies to benefit from “a whole brand-new industry that never existed before. And we’ll never see anything like this in our lifetime.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the offshore wind industry is expected to create 16,700 jobs along the Northeast coast by 2028.
Gov. Gina Raimondo said Rhode Island could follow Denmark as a leader in the offshore wind businesses.
“That’s what we could be since we are first in North America,” she said. “It’s a whole ecosystem we have to develop ... 10, 15, 20 years from now we are talking thousands and thousands of jobs.”
The recent Wind Win RI kickoff event was hosted by the North Kingstown operations of Anvil International, maker of industrial pipes for the fossil-fuel industry. Rick Laviolette, vice president for Anvil, hopes to manufacture wind turbine towers at its plant near the Port of Quonset.
“It may work for us, it may not. All we’re asking for is the opportunity,” he said. “So for us it’s exciting as well.”
Thomas Alexander, president of the Lightship Group LLC, said his ship repair and engineering company in Davisville needs a youth movement.
“Most young kids these days want to get involved with computers. They don't want to get involved wth trades,” he said.
Many of Lightship’s projects require traveling the Northeast coast.
“That’s kind of tough on a family,” Alexander said. “If we are going to be developing some really good jobs in technology right here in Rhode Island it’s really going to help our workforce and retain our workforce.”
Other employers spoke about the demand for turbine repair technicians and rope climbers, jobs that pay $40 to $50 an hour.
Wind Win RI is funded through a $100,00 Real Jobs Rhode Island grant. It includes funds for training teachers.
The new program is similar to the Connect4Wind training offered by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Bristol Community College, and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Announced in June, the program offers research collaboration, visiting lecturers, and shared teaching for degree and non-degree programs.