Harnessing the Power of Wind Energy

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"Where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain" is more than just a song lyric for Oklahoma's career and technical education community. It's the acknowledgement of an untapped natural resource that has the potential to translate into both energy independence for the country and jobs for the state. Statewide, technology center instructors and administrators, Oklahoma's Department of Career and Technology Education (Career Tech) staff, state officials and business partners are working together to develop and deploy training programs that will foster economic development, a positive environmental impact, budget savings and create local jobs.

The United States government issued a report forecasting what it would take to get 20 percent of U.S. energy from wind power. Oklahoma's Department of Commerce heard that call and is ready to be a part of the answer, relying on Career Tech to get the state there. Commerce department officials estimate that Oklahoma will be the nation's second-largest generator of wind power by 2030, generating 9 percent of electricity in the United States.

Economic Development

Advancing wind energy and renewable power in Oklahoma means creating "green collar" jobs for Oklahomans and capitalizing on an abundant natural resource. Oklahoma's commerce department estimates the industry could produce $500 million in tax revenue and 18,000 jobs for Oklahomans over the next 10 years. Within five years, the wind industry cluster could create almost 7,000 jobs across the state, with average salaries increasing from $44,900 the first year to $60,400 by the fifth year. The department expects $1.48 billion in total personal income to be created from the wind industry cluster alone. Total economic activity over five years, represented by gross domestic product, will be greater than $2.48 billion.

"Oklahoma is eighth in the nation for wind resource," said Kylah McNabb, wind development specialist at Oklahoma's Department of Commerce. "Twice what Texas is ranked."

A typical wind energy farm produces a great deal of economic impact, according to some of the Oklahoma cities that are home to existing wind energy companies. The money starts to come to the community in the form of land leases and construction jobs. In addition, the hospitality industry and sales tax revenues will increase, and, eventually, ad valorem taxes--which fund most Oklahoma schools--will also go up.

Environmental Impact

In addition to its economic impact, wind energy appears to have no emissions or fuel requirements. Recently, issues have arisen concerning the animal populations affected by the placement of wind turbines. Since the turbines are generally in open prairie space, their placement can infringe on the needed space for certain animals; the habitat within one mile of a tower is generally unusable.

"We are getting better at placing wind turbines," McNabb said.

The Oklahoma Nature Conservancy is studying the environmental impact on the land and animals around wind turbines. The organization has worked with wind-energy developers to ensure the turbines are being placed in areas with the highest potential for wind, and also have limited sensitive habitat around them.

Curriculum

A challenge exists in developing curriculum for a new industry. Currently no national standards exist on which schools can model their training initiatives. Although there are organizations working to establish this standard, CareerTech and the commerce department have had to forge a path on their own. CareerTech began working with the Multi-State Academic and Vocational Curriculum Consortium (MAVCC), and McNabb, to develop curriculum that would meet the need for trained workers in the wind energy industry. McNabb has more than six years experience working in the industry and holds a hybrid position that reports to both the commerce department and CareerTech. …