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Renewable Energy Tech program rises

With gas and oil prices surging and supply sources mired in conflict, businesses and individuals are actively seeking out alternative forms of energy.

At the Renewable Energy Technology program at Columbia Gorge Community College, students are lining up to train for work in the ever-expanding employment opportunities in the alternative energy fields.

“We are not only training wind technicians,” said Abby Brown, RET program director for CGCC. “We are preparing students to work in many fields which deal with power conveyance and electronics.”

“Power conveyance” is a term referring to the processes that move electrical energy from its source to its user.

CGCC’s RET program includes hands-on and theoretical training in those processes used in wind, hydro, bio-fuel and solar generation operations, and as such, provides graduates with wide opportunities for employment.

“Yes, we are one of the top programs in the nation and have been around the longest,” said Brown. “But most importantly, we consistently update our curriculum based on direct, ongoing participation from our alternative energy industry partners.”

Between June 21 and July 5, the rush will be on for students to secure one of the 40 coveted spots available for the fall term start of the 2012 RET program.

“The spots do fill up quickly, on a first-come, first-served basis for those who meet pre-requisites. So we advise people to complete the required preparations and paperwork as soon as possible to be ready early in the registration period,” advised Brown.

What exactly is bringing on the excitement and rush to sign up?

The program offers a nine-month certificate and a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree — both of which provide ample employment opportunities upon completion.

During a recent alumni survey of the program, 121 of the 127 graduates reached were employed in alternative energy jobs and other fields. And, according to Brown, around 50 percent of those employed are working in wind-industry-specific jobs.

“RET graduates are working with local businesses including Insitu, Sagetech, Cloud Cap, Bonneville Power Administration and other similar industries because these students have obtained skills in electronics and electronic controllers in addition to understanding renewable energy,” said Brown.

The list of wind employers is long as well, including Iberdrola, Vestas, PGE, EDP Renewables, Suzlon, Siemens, enXco, Gamesa, Cannon and General Electric, among others.

There are some pre-requisites that must be met to be considered for entry into the RET program and students are advised to research those quickly.

Students must test into college level math 95 and level 115 reading and writing. They must also take a basic computer skills test and have a minimum high school GPA of 2.5. Testing may be arranged for free through CGCC student services at either campus.

Once accepted, students will be involved in hands-on laboratory work and book-based studies.

The nine-month certificate highlights learning about electrical and mechanical systems and electronics with a focus on the wind energy industry. The training carries the American Wind Energy Association Seal of Approval. Only seven schools in the nation have that approval, and Columbia Gorge was one of the first three to be recognized.

In the two-year pathway, students will graduate with an associate degree in renewable energy technology with a focus that adds more digital systems training onto the first-year curriculum. Programmable logic controllers, hydraulic systems, motor controls and courses looking at other energy systems (hydro, solar, bio-fuels) fill out the experience.

Brown notes that although some students arrive at the RET program just out of high school, many are adults returning to school to either upgrade skills or take on a new trade. The program draws students from across the U.S.

“The RET program prepares students to succeed in the real world — with excellent connections to employers, internships, career fairs, résumé assistance, professional development and networking,” Brown concluded.

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