Wind Companies Fund Energy Training and Education

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The offshore wind industry is investing in local jobs and students through a $4.5 million gift to support education for high-school and college students.

Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource, the Boston-based utility and wind developer, recently pledged $3.5 million to the University of Rhode Island to support renewable-energy research and job training for undergraduates and graduate students.

Part of the money will support URI’s Energy Fellows Program, which prepares undergrad and grad students for entry- and mid-level jobs at companies such as National Grid, RISE Engineering, and Green Development LLC, the North Kingstown-based builder of land-based wind turbines and solar facilities.

Mary Colbert, a 2017 URI graduate, turned her Energy Fellows internship at Ørsted into a full-time job as a permitting analyst at the company’s downtown office.

“I’m working for a company that’s leading the offshore wind industry from right here in Rhode Island,” said Colbert, one of several former and current students from the energy program who attended the April 22 press event.

According to the Office of Energy Resources, Rhode Island has an estimated 16,000 jobs in the green energy sector, growing 72 percent since 2014. Some 60 percent of the jobs are in energy efficiency and 13 percent are in renewable energy.

Nationwide, 3.26 million workers are employed in the green energy sector, an increase of 4 percent in 2018, according to a new report.

Ørsted expects to hire 800 construction workers and create 50 permanent jobs with the building of the 400-megawatt Revolution Wind project planned for federal waters between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

URI president David Dooley said the money will fund training, mentoring, and experiential learning opportunities for students from high school to the Ph.D. level.

“So that they can be involved and they can be prepared to lead going into the future,” he said.

The students will also be conducting research related to the siting of offshore wind turbines.

Dooley gave his word that the research will focus on protecting marine habitat and supporting the fishing industry, as it did through the development of the state’s acclaimed offshore wind development guide, the Ocean Special Area Management Plan.

“I can assure you, our researchers have the highest regard for doing things objectively, to say what the data say and don’t say,” Dooley said.

Energy storage will be a future area of study.

“That’s going to be a critical component of all of this kind of work, because at the end of the day you are going to have to interface with what we are doing with these kinds of renewable energy sources into the grid. And energy-storage solutions are going to be a critically important part of that,” Dooley said.

Another $1.5 million will pay for local job training, such as the Wind-Win RI certification program for unemployed and first-time workers. It also funds the engineering and marine safety program at North Kingstown High School. The certification includes boat licenses and a ropes training program working with tall equipment such as wind turbines.

The program, managed by the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, was honored by Fast Company magazine as a World Changing Idea.

As part of the state’s renewable-energy training, URI is scheduled to host the Kid Wind Project teacher training program this summer.