By Diane Cardwell
Goldwind Americas, an arm of a leading wind-turbine manufacturer based in China, has been expanding its business in the United States. It has been careful to seek out local, American workers for permanent jobs on the wind farms it supplies.
Now it is trying to extend that policy to an unlikely place: Wyoming, which produces more coal than any other state and has hardly welcomed the march of turbines across the country, even imposing a tax on wind-energy generation.
On Thursday at an energy conference in Wyoming, the company announced plans for a free training program for one of the nation’s fastest-growing jobs: wind farm technician. And it is aiming the program at coal miners having trouble finding work, as well as those from other industries.
Called Goldwind Works, the program would begin next month with a series of informational meetings in Wyoming and include a safety training and tower climb at a wind farm in Montana.
The company has an agreement to supply turbines, potentially 850, to a project in Carbon County, Wyo., where the state’s first coal mine opened a century ago. Once construction is completed, as many as 200 workers will be needed to maintain and operate the plant.
The chief executive, David Halligan, said in a telephone interview that he expected coal workers to have relevant skills, mainly electrical and mechanical, and experience working under difficult conditions.
“If we can tap into that market and also help out folks that might be experiencing some challenges in the work force today, I think that it can be a win-win situation,” he said. “If you’re a wind technician, you obviously can’t be afraid of heights. You have to be able to work at heights, and you have to be able to work at heights in a safe manner.”
The program could offer a needed boost. Hundreds of coal miners were laid off in Wyoming last year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that national employment for mining and geological engineers will grow by 6 percent between 2014 and 2024, while employment for wind turbine technicians is expected to grow by 108 percent.
Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming, said the announcement could lead to a shift in thinking about the potential economic development benefits of wind projects. The state has some of the most robust winds in the country and has attracted keen interest from developers.
“This is actually a realization of these benefits in a way that hasn’t been apparent before,” Mr. Godby said. “The more you hear these positive stories and you start to see more direct benefits, it changes local perspectives and kind of begins to open minds.”
He cautioned, though, that the program could hardly make up for job losses in the coal industry, in part because each coal job results in related jobs, given the supply chain involved in handling and transporting the fuel.
Beyond Wyoming, the program could have implications for complex trade relations with China. In 2013, the Commerce Department finalized steep tariffs on some wind towers after finding that China was providing unfair subsidies to manufacturers that were then selling their products at below-market prices.
“This seems to be an effort — and perhaps a smart effort — by a Chinese company to win its way into the hearts of this administration and get beyond what’s happened in the past by targeting a core group of supporters of this president,” said Rory MacFarquhar, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“But this administration has been talking much more about manufacturing than about services,” added Mr. MacFarquhar, who helped set international economic and trade policy in the Obama White House. “They seem to want to actually have factory jobs back in the United States.”
Mr. Halligan said that Goldwind did not have plans for American manufacturing, but that the Wyoming wind project could generate thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of full-time operations and support positions.
The company plans to use the Wyoming program as a pilot. It hopes to eventually roll it out in other states where it supplies turbines, like Texas.
Diane Cardwell is a Business Day reporter for The New York Times covering energy, with a focus on renewables. Read the article online at nytimes.com.
Watch our video to learn more about Goldwind Works from Goldwind Americas’ CEO, David Halligan.