March 2010

Maine Local Gets Ready for Wind-Energy Revolution
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Despite a statewide slowdown in construction, the wind-energy industry in Maine is going strong. To make sure it is staffed with highly trained electrical workers, the IBEW has partnered with government officials and clean-energy entrepreneurs to provide training to its members in this fast-growing sector of the clean-energy economy.

"In Maine, renewable energy is the hot buzzword," said Portland Local 567 Business Manager Richard Deering. "It has made a real commitment to wind farm development."

Late last year, more than 30 electricians from Local 567 took part in a two-week tower training course, which covered everything from fixing broken blades to rescuing injured crew members stuck on the top of turbines. The training was sponsored by the IBEW and Larkin Enterprises Inc., a wind-energy contractor. Funding was provided by the North Star Alliance Initiative, a state job-creation effort, using monies from a $14.4 million federal work grant from the Department of Labor.

"The training was incredible," said Local 567 member Shianne Valenzuela, who took part in the course.

If it wasn't for wind power, Valenzuela says she would have likely sat on the bench all year.

"I've never been out of work this long in my life," the fourth-year apprentice said. "Things have been really rough."

But despite the recession, Valenzuela found work last summer working on the $320 million, 132-megawatt Kibby Mountain Wind Power Project in northwest Maine.

More than 20 IBEW members worked on the first phase of the project, building half of the planned 44-turbine farm. Valenzuela—working on her first wind farm—ran a cable tie-down crew, making sure the weight of the cables—which ran from the top of the tower (known as the nacelle) to its base—were weighted properly.

"There is zero room for error when you're dealing with wind towers," she said. "Safety has to be the top priority."

The second phase of Kibby Mountain is expected to begin this summer.

If all of Maine's planned wind projects become a reality, Deering says that the wind-energy sector could grow employment in construction by as much as 25 percent.

Local 567's Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee is in the process of incorporating wind training into its curriculum.

"It's the future for us," Deering said.

Portland, Maine, Local 567 member Shianne Valenzuela was one of more than 30 electricians who took part in a training course in wind turbine maintenance.