Vantage Adult Education Coordinator Pete Prichard speaks to the crowd on the process of the new Alternative Energy Academy on Sunday afternoon. (Times Bulletin/Kirk Douga)
Vantage Adult Education Coordinator Pete Prichard speaks to the crowd on the process of the new Alternative Energy Academy on Sunday afternoon. (Times Bulletin/Kirk Douga)
VAN WERT - Green energy was the subject around Ohio this weekend and on Sunday, a group of interested people gathered at Vantage Career Center to listen to discussions about solar and wind energy in the state, hear how the school was preparing workers for jobs in the industry, and take advantage of the opportunity to see the wind turbine farms in the Van Wert area.

The Green Energy Ohio Tour took place around the state on Saturday and Sunday and involved more than 260 open houses in 51 counties. In other parts of the state, energy efficiency, biomass, and other green technologies were the main topics of discussion but in Van Wert, the concentration was on wind and solar energy.

Bill Spratley, Executive Director of Green Energy Ohio, chose to attend Van Wert's open house because of one reason: his excitement over the progress of the green energy projects in the area.

"It's a very exciting day for me personally," he said. "I've been working on solar and wind for 11 years in the state and I was in the wilderness for a long, long time. But in the last three years, we have had a virtual explosion after the legislation passed a law that said the utilities in this state had to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy. Four-and-a-half years ago, we brought 5,000 people to Cleveland for a national solar conference and we couldn't even show one megawatt of solar. (Vantage) is going to put up half a megawatt - that's more than the whole city of Columbus has at this hour. This is huge."

Spratley went on to point out that the GEO is the biggest green energy tour in the U.S. and it continues to grow every year. In attendance were residents from Mansfield, Urbana, and other communities where wind farms were still in the early stages of development and the GEO served as a means to get people together from various parts of the state so they could learn about projects from each other and see the benefits firsthand.

"I want you to think about this school," he said. "I want you to think about the future of training people here. It won't be long in the future, I predict, and you are going to have solar homes right here in Van Wert. You are going to have them all over this landscape. This is becoming more economic everyday. This is the technology of the future. This where our children can find jobs. They are going to put up a 50-megawatt solar farm near Zanesville. It will be the biggest solar farm east of the Mississippi and one of the biggest in the world. We have a great story to tell here in Ohio. We rank second in the United States in (producing) parts for wind turbines. You look at the wind companies and their parts are coming out of Ohio companies. We can put people to work to do that and we can people to work to maintain these wind turbines."

Vantage will be utilizing solar energy after the ongoing expansion and renovation project is completed. Superintendent Staci Kaufman pointed out the .5 megawatt solar facility will produce up to 40 percent of the school's electricity needs when it is operating at full capacity.

Just as exciting for the school is the adult education program's joint venture with Iberdrola Renewables and Horizon Wind Energy as the Alternative Energy Academy is started.

"Both wind farms have been very supportive and making sure that we provide authentic training and curriculum,using the best resources, so that we can get people working and understanding renewable energies, as well as employed in the various careers in alternative energy fields," she told the group.

Pete Prichard, the Adult Education Coordinator at Vantage, gave a brief outline on where the process stands for the Academy. The school has teamed together with Owens Community College and Northwest State Community College to offer post-secondary degrees and will offer three new program areas. First, a HVAC-R course will be put in place for geothermal and other studies. Second, a commercial electrical program that dovetails with alternative energy choices will be added. Finally, a wind turbine repair technician course will be offered. Parts of the required course studies will overlap with the three programs but Prichard pointed out the degrees will also open up a wealth of other technical fields of study for individuals as well. Completion of the programs will give adult students the option to go directly into employment or provide transferable credits to be used in more in-depth studies.

The repair technician course will be the most specialized of the three and that is easily seen once the requirements of the position are understood. It requires a minimum of a two-year post-graduate certificate, the ability to climb 275 feet in the air, must weight less than 285 pounds, must carry 60 pounds of equipment, must have computer and writing skills, and must be willing to relocate.

Prichard said Vantage and the community college partners have completed the paperwork for the new programs and it has been presented to the Ohio Board of Regents. An Alternative Energy lead instructor was hired in July with the projection of some prerequisite courses to begin as early as January and the possibility of the full programs starting as soon as next fall.

Jim O'Connor of Iberdrola Renewables was also on hand to discuss the Blue Creek Wind Farm project as well as the Dog Creek and Prairie Creek portions as well. He said that right now, 152 Gamesa G90 two-megawatt wind turbines are a part of the current project. Of those, 114 are in Van Wert County and 38 in Paulding. That represented a $600 million investment in the area and will add between 15-20 permanent positions. When the other two projects begin, Dog Creek will add 150 turbines and Prairie Creek will add 100. All three portions together will take an investment of $1.7 billion.

More importantly to the local economy, they are paying out more than $1.1 million in lease payments to land owners and $2.7 million annually in local property taxes - an amount greater than the previous top 14 taxpayers combined.

Members of the audience were invited to take a driving tour of the wind farms and were supplied with maps after the discussions were completed.