Paul Vigeant, Executive Director of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center and Vice President for Workforce Development for Bristol Community College, recently attended the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Conference in New Orleans.
In all, 7,200 representatives of the wind energy sector attended the three-day event – the biggest turnout ever. And news that the Massachusetts House of Representatives released legislation calling for 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy created lots of buzz.
We caught up with Paul to get his impressions about the conference and where wind energy is today in the United States.
Q. Tell us a little about the conference.
- All of the major land-based wind energy companies were in attendance. My first impression is how wind energy is no longer just this cool experience or a lark. It is real business. It is emerging as a real energy player in the United States and the world.
Q. That’s interesting. We think of Europe as the leader in wind energy.
- Europe is the leader in offshore wind energy, no question. But in land-based wind, the United States is the dominant player in the whole world. The U.S. has more than 50,000 land-based turbines with 70 gigawatts of installed capacity. That’s a lot of power and it continues to grow.
Q. How does offshore wind fit into the picture?
- A lot of the technology used for land-based wind is transferable to offshore wind. We manufacture wind turbines right here in the United States. In fact, the combination of the European experience with offshore wind — they’ve made a lot of mistakes that we can learn from — and the know-how of our existing wind industry provides is pretty powerful foundation for a new industry.
Q. Was anyone paying attention to the Massachusetts energy bill that calls for 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind energy?
- The news was a little slow to leak out. But then it made the newsletter that they produce for the conference, and it created a lot of buzz. People recognize that this is the dawn of a new industry in the United States and that they can be part of it. It’s not just the wind people who see this. People who work on the oil and gas rigs in the Gulf have skills that can be used in offshore wind. In fact, they already are working on the DeepWater project off of Rhode Island.
Q. How does all this relate to New Bedford and efforts to establish this industry on the South Coast of Massachusetts?
- In the next 20 years, the fastest growing occupation in the country will be wind turbine technician, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But it’s not on anyone’s radar. There is no consistent training or certification or even an agreement about what a properly trained wind turbine tech needs to know. At BCC, we have a wind energy program and we can help lead the way in workforce development. Also, we already have the workers. The maritime workforce in our region has the skills needed to operate and maintain offshore wind turbines. All they need is the right training.