2019-01-09 / Farm & Ranch

Texas training for wind power jobs literally has ups, downs

By ANDREA LEINFELDER
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON (AP) Anthony Snoddy was first to climb the 18-foot ladder.

The Houston Chronicle reports the kid who found the tallest trees and front-flipped off buildings, Snoddy, 36, wasn't worried about the height. He knew it would be part of his job maintaining and repairing wind turbines.

Instead, he was focused on the safety clamps and procedures for climbing the ladder. These weren't part of his riskier youthful forays, but they were essential in graduating from MIAT College of Technology and entering a workforce expected to grow 96 percent between 2016 and 2026.

``Just make sure you do everything correctly,'' Snoddy told himself as he approached the ladder.

In 2018, the MIAT campus in north Houston saw a 60 percent enrollment increase in its wind power technician program, which averaged 25 to 30 students at any given time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the field will grow to 11,400 wind turbine technicians in 2026, up from 5,800 in 2016.

Many of MIAT's graduates could be employed in Texas, a hot spot for wind power. The state leads the nation in wind power production and has more installed wind power capacity than all but five countries in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Department. The American Wind Energy Association said that in 2017, Texas had up to 25,000 wind industry jobs.

In addition to studying hydraulics, welding and electrical theories during the seven-month program, MIAT students must learn to safely climb the roughly 300-foot towers and to rescue their colleagues should something go wrong.

``That way, when they go out in the field, I've personally verified that they can actively protect themselves at height,'' said David Moriconi, lead wind instructor at MIAT.

So Snoddy attached his harness to a cable in the center of the ladder. He climbed to the top and transitioned to a platform, which involved unclipping from the cable at his chest and then clipping a dual-shock-absorbing lanyard to his back.

He then attached a self-retracting line a yo-yo-like contraption that would catch Snoddy should he fall and unclipped the shock-absorbing lanyard.

All of that had to be done before setting to work, with hand signals from below indicating that he needed to lift or lower a set of tools. And then Snoddy climbed back down the ladder in an equally safe fashion.

He passed with flying colors.

``Just seeing, in a small fragment or picture frame, how it's going to be done on a daily basis,'' Snoddy said, ``that was very important to me.''

The test earned students a climb and rescue certification required by many employers.

Tony Robinette, field operations manager for renewable energy and construction at the staffing firm System One, emphasized the importance of this climb test, saying the most catastrophic injuries often come from climbing.

He also applauded MIAT, saying the students are well prepared when they graduate. It helps that MIAT has a longer training period than some other programs.

``They definitely come out and hit the ground running,'' he said.

And to make the training more fun, MIAT held a competition on the eve of its official climb test. Moriconi clocked how quickly students could climb the ladder five times. That's roughly the height of a single section on a wind turbine tower and most towers have four sections.

The fastest time was 1 minute, 30 seconds. The slowest time was around 4 minutes, 30 seconds.

Snoddy came in second place at 1 minute, 56 seconds. Good, but not entirely satisfying.

``I'm an ex-athlete,'' he said, ``so I wish I came in first.''

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