The wind industry is one of the fastest-growing in the US, and a Chinese wind company hopes to get ahead of the curve by creating a workforce: It will be launching a training programme in Wyoming for coal miners to teach them to be wind farmers.
Goldwind Americas, the US arm of the Beijing-based Goldwind, is expecting to start a training programme this fall in Carbon County, Wyoming - known for its extensive coal deposits and being in the state that produces the most coal in the US - for coal miners who the company strongly believes can take their transferable skills to the wind sector.
"We're trying to be proactive to address what we think will be a challenge in the future, because there will be a demand [for] wind technicians," said David Halligan, CEO of Goldwind Americas.
"And for whether it's coal miners or oil and gas workers, these types of industries are where people generally have skills that are transferable to the wind industry - they've already been safety-trained, they have electrical skills, they have mechanical skills, they're used to working perhaps in hazardous situations. So we think that this worker base is a good transition to the wind industry," he said.
The programme, which was announced at an energy summit in Wyoming in May, is still in its planning phases, but the company hopes to introduce participants to wind farming through visits to Goldwind's wind farms in Montana, meeting local wind workers, getting safety trained, and experiencing wind turbines before entering the training programme in earnest at a training facility in Wyoming.
Goldwind already has wind projects going in Central Texas, Montana, and Ohio-and hopes to eventually take the training programme across the country-but Wyoming is the company's starting point because of the access to training facilities that are not readily available in the other states, said Halligan.
It's in talks with Viridis Eolia, a Wyoming-based renewable energy company, for a wind project in Carbon County, where it hopes to recruit workers from the training programme once they finish their training.
"If we're training folks in Wyoming, we'd like to be in a position to have projects up and going there and potentially bring them on to work on those wind farms," Halligan said.
The Wyoming project will serve the western energy market and will provide up to 1,870 megawatts of Goldwind wind turbines. The CEO of Viridis said in a statement that the project will bring "substantial economic support to the state of Wyoming for years to come".
"The whole basis of our strategy is really Goldwind's localization strategy; this comes from our Chairman Wu Gang, his idea to localize and have local wind experts be the workforce for Goldwind in these markets. So likewise, we're trying to hire local folks in the states that we have projects," he said.
Halligan said that the point of the training programme isn't to replace all the jobs that have been lost in the coal industry, but to potentially create hundreds of new jobs in the wind energy sector, which would further be complemented by the thousands of construction jobs that will be part of building out these wind farms, he said.
The company doesn't do the actual construction work on the farms, but works with contractors to fill those roles.
"It's always been our strategy to localize, and we think it's obviously good for business because you're tapping into the local experts, but it'll also bring local employment, and regardless of whether you're a Chinese company or a French company or whatever international company working in the US," he said.
US wind installations have surged over the last decade, with new wind turbines being installed every 2.5 hours, according to a May report from the American Wind Energy Association. Wind provided 5.6 per cent of all electricity across the US in 2016, and the figure has more than doubled since 2010.