By Brandon Martin
The New College Institute (NCI) has received nearly 200 applicants to a new program after last week’s announced formation of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance.
NCI Interim Executive Director Karen Jackson said 191 applications have been received to the program which will offer two certifications related to onshore and offshore wind energy.
By partnering with Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy, NCI also will offer a wide range of wind related credentials.
Global Wind Organization (GWO) Basic Safety Training and Basic Technical Training will begin in the first quarter of 2021.
GWO is a non-profit body founded by wind turbine manufacturers and owners. They published the first version of the Basic Safety Training (BST) standard in 2012 in response to the demand for a recognizable standard in the wind turbine industry which was followed by the Basic Technical Training (BTT) standard in 2017.
“Anybody that works on a wind turbine has to have these courses,” Jackson said. “With these two courses they have the basics to qualify for a job anywhere in the wind industry.”
Jackson said that the courses are a foundation for more advanced courses. By creating the Alliance, more advanced certifications can be acquired through NCI’s partners.
The two courses last “between a week and two weeks,” according to Jackson, who described the courses as “fairly high-volume,” in order to fit all of the material in the short timeframe.
Jackson said NCI will be able to provide hands-on instruction by teaching students “the in’s and out’s” of working with safety and at elevation. In addition, Jackson said the institute has constructed a tower for students to gain experience. The tower will not be full-size but Jackson said students can gain experience “with the components” that make up industrial-sized wind turbines.
NCI is working on ways to provide the course as affordably as possible, Jackson said. One way this might be accomplished is through the Workforce Credential Grant Program that can reduce the student cost of specific workforce credential training programs by two-thirds, Jackson added.
“To have NCI positioned to be the first place in the state (to offer the certifications) is a great spot to be in,” Jackson said. “I’d rather be on the cutting-edge of something instead of trailing the pack and the ground floor of the renewable energy industry is an exciting place to be. There is a need.”
Jackson said only 35 of the applicants to the new program are from Virginia.
The wind industry in the United States continues to experience exponential growth, supporting 120,000 American jobs in 2019, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
The AWEA also estimates that the wind industry has invested more than $208 billion in wind projects across the country with the capacity to produce at least 109 gigawatts of power to date. Dominion Energy and Avangrid Renewables have nearly 400 offshore wind turbines under development off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.
Jackson said that the area’s proximity to the Midwest (in addition to the Virginia offshore wind industry) added to the attractiveness of offering this training due to their continued growth and training needs to support “a large number of wind farms”. By having these markets close by the training center, it’s a great alignment with workforce development goals.”
The new programs are exciting for Jackson.
“It speaks to the diverse portfolio that NCI is offering,” Jackson said. “We are training for forward-facing careers and positioning Martinsville to be a major training center and that’s exciting.”
She also “is interested in other relationships in renewables,” such as solar and battery technologies.
The training available at NCI could pair well with other education initiatives available in Martinsville-Henry County.
Students in Henry County Public Schools have the option of attending the Career Academy, which offers classes in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to prepare students for further education after graduating from high school, whether they choose to study at a four-year university, a two-year college, a technical school, or to enter the workforce.
The academy’s objective is to make education applied, practical, and aligned to industry needs. The classes develop certain career skills and industry certifications and apply those to a professional career, such as welding, facility management and agribusiness.
Michael Minter, director, said that many of the students who attend the Career Academy go on to become certified workers for local companies.
When students graduate high school, a variety of technical education and certifications also are available through Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC).
The community college offers several programs in advanced manufacturing and skilled trades. Some of the specializations could be valuable as renewable energy continues to develop. Students can gain an Associate of Applied Science Degree in General Engineering Technologies and Industrial Electronics Technology. Additionally, certifications can be acquired in advanced manufacturing and welding.
Two technical four-year universities are nearby as well–Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg; and North Carolina A & T State University, in Greensboro, N.C.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the occupation of “wind turbine service technician” was the projected fastest growing job from 2019-2029 with “solar photovoltaic installers” landing in third place.
Globally, the renewable energy market was valued at $928 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2025, based on figures from Allied Market Research (AMR). Renewable energy technologies convert the energy from different natural sources such as sun, tides, wind and others, into its usable forms such as electricity.
Some localities are already in position to serve as proving grounds for those renewable technologies.
The City of Martinsville recently signed off on a solar energy project that would diversify their energy portfolio. They plan to convert the former Lynwood Golf Club site on DuPont Road into a solar energy site, producing 23 megawatt hours of electricity. The city budgeted $350,000 to construct the transmission line that would connect the Lynwood site to the electrical grid serving Martinsville.
In addition, the city also entered a “shared savings agreement” with Appalachian Power. This agreement calls for the construction of a 9-megawatt battery storage facility of which the city will receive 10 percent of the savings until the cost of the capital and investment have been recovered.
Given that the city has already shown interest in the use of renewable technologies and the new training center at NCI, some manufacturers could flag the area for potential job creation.
According to AMR, the renewable energy market is classified into residential, commercial, industrial, and others. The industrial segment is expected to account for the highest market share.
Fortunately for Martinsville-Henry County (MHC), the development of Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre (CCBC) would provide plenty of space for those manufacturers.
The site is one of nine “mega-sites” constructed through grants by the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. Currently, the site only has one tenant – Press Glass, Inc., a major European glass manufacturer that is building a 280,000 square-foot manufacturing facility and creating 212 jobs.
“Press Glass is without question an ‘anchor tenant,’” said Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. “Their Phase 1 investment of $53.5 million and 212 new jobs is a major first project at CCBC, and has substantially increased our market visibility and prospect traffic.
“But we want more than one ‘anchor’ tenant,” he said. “We want each tenant to be of the size and the quality to be considered an ‘anchor tenant,’ and that’s what we work to achieve each day.”
Heath said he expects full-buildout of CCBC to be complete within 3-5 years.
“That projection is based on the EDC’s ongoing work with the state and major prospect consultants, which are major drivers in the location of new manufacturing facilities,” he said. “The more developed CCBC becomes, the more unique it is as a location option which hopefully transfers into more prospect visits. There are very few fully-developed sites in the southeast.”
He said there remains approximately 180 additional acres to grade and develop, which “most likely will be done in the next 10 years, based on market demand and available funding.”
With one European manufacturer already invested, others from different industries could come to fill that available space.
Based on data from Stanford University, the United Kingdom primarily produces renewable energy through wind. Scotland is able to produce enough renewable energy to power all its homes and businesses without the need for any fossil fuels. The UK also now produces more energy from wind farms than it does from coal.
Other countries in the European Union, like Germany, derive their energy from solar primarily. Currently, renewable energy in Germany provides more electricity than its coal and nuclear output combined.
According to Pew Research, 77 percent of Americans agree that “the more important energy priority should be developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power and hydrogen technology rather than increasing U.S. production of fossil fuels.”
The push also seems to be bi-partisan in nature when accounting for age, according to Pew. While 90 percent of all Democrats prioritize alternative renewable energy, a strong majority of younger Republicans (78 percent of those aged 18 to 38) also agree.
As the global demand for production of these technologies increases, so does the need for an available workforce.
Some local incentives, such as Move to Martinsville, are already playing a role in attracting a demographic to fit that workforce.
The nonprofit organization highlights the area’s low cost-of-living and outdoor activities which could be of interest to younger Americans.
According to the organization, the cost-of-living index in Martinsville is 28 percent lower than the average in Virginia. Compared to the national average, it is 22 percent lower.
Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki recently unveiled findings from a housing-needs study.
The study area covered a 50-mile radius around the city and county. It found that employment in the area was concentrated in four areas–one of which was manufacturing.
Towarnicki said the radius has a sizable workforce that commutes from other cities like Danville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, N.C. Given this finding, Towarnicki said this similarly hints that “there is a housing need in this area.”
As part of Move to Martinsville’s website, the city is “centrally located. The Roanoke metropolitan area lies an hour to the north, and the thriving Piedmont Triad area, with a population of 1.7 million, an hour to the south,” the website states. “Danville, a city of more than 40,000 with a major shopping mall and movie plex, is just over a half-hour to the east. Duke, Wake Forest, Liberty and two University of North Carolina campuses are all less than 90 minutes away. So are two international airports.”
If the pitch works, then a number of young Americans who are interested in renewable energy and manufacturing could flock to the area.
Due to recent efforts by the localities, housing will also soon be available for the influx of workers.
Along with development of the Chief Tassel Building, the city has also tapped CA Hairston Company, LLC., to renovate the BB&T building on 1 Ellsworth Street into a mixed-usage apartment complex.
Chris Hairston and Martinsville native Shawn Moore have been chosen to head the project.
“Shawn and I are both very excited to be in the City of Martinsville and contemplating redevelopment projects,” Hairston said. The BB&T building “has great ground floor frontage. It allows for commercial space as well as a high-rise tower that would be well suited for loft-style apartments.”
Hairston said that they plan on developing 20,000 feet of commercial space on the ground floor with some space being taken up by the city for offices. Between 50-70 workforce housing and market rate apartments would also be constructed inside of the building. There would be surface-level parking for the structure as well.
Henry County has also taken steps to ensure available workforce housing.
James Cherney, a managing partner of JRS Realty Partners, LLC, said that he plans on developing the former John Redd Elementary School, in Collinsville, into 32 apartments for workforce families.