Danville Area Community College (DACC) created its Wind Energy Technician program in 2009 to help fill a need created by the burgeoning wind industry. Combining the conceptual material with hands-on technical training, DACC was one of the first schools in the country to offer a two-year degree in the wind energy field. Greg Hansbraugh, the Renewable Energy Instructor at DACC, cites the job placement rate for students as the best indicator of the program’s success. “In addition to working on wind farms in Illinois students have secured jobs across the country, including Michigan, Indiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, and even in Puerto Rico” said Hansbraugh.
Dale Langdon is one recent graduate of the Wind Energy Technician Program at DACC. Langdon, who graduated from high school in Danville, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years before returning home and starting college. He completed his associate’s degree in May 2015, and prior to graduation had already started working at the California Ridge wind farm, operated by Invenergy, in Vermilion County. This wind farm includes 134 wind towers, each generating 1.6MW of energy, that are maintained by Langdon and his colleagues.Wind Energy Technicians typically work in crews of two to three people doing everything from checking bolts to preventative maintenance to trouble shooting a tower that is down. Langdon said he enjoys the variety of work, including the combination of the physical and mental effort needed to do the job. He takes pride in “the diagnosis of a problem and the effort of fixing a multi-million dollar machine so that it’s running and producing clean energy.” Langdon also enjoys the ability to work with minimal supervision because his supervisors trust that he can do the job correctly.
Langdon credits his education at DACC for helping him prepare for the intricacies he encounters every day job. From electrical diagnosis to climb and rescue practice, he noted that his instructors covered a lot of information during his two-year program. His advice to future students is to pay attention to everything, even things that seem monotonous, because you never know when it will come in handy. For instance, Langdon mentioned that the climb and rescue training was something Hansbraugh had students drill over and over again. However, such training is crucial preparation for students who might one day be in an emergency situation and need to act quickly. Langdon said he has not yet had to use this portion of his training, but he knows he will be prepared if the day ever comes.
Hansbraugh keeps in touch with many of his former students as they branch out across the country. He noted that it is an exciting time to be in the wind energy industry because the field is growing so rapidly. This rapid growth means that highly-skilled technicians are in demand, often with starting salaries of $19.00 per hour or higher. More experienced technicians can double that pay rate after several years of service, and opportunities for supervisory and management positions are also opening up.