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WIND-POWER INDUSTRY SEEKS TRAINED WORKFORCE

WIND-POWER INDUSTRY SEEKS TRAINED WORKFORCEInterest in green-collar jobs is surging among workers from struggling

industries. Colleges like California's Cerro Coso are scrambling to help

fill the lack of technical education for the field.One man in the classroom earned more than $100,000 framing tract homes

during the building heyday. Another installed pools and piloted a backhoe.

Behind him sat a young father who made a good living swinging a hammer in

southern Utah.But that was before construction jobs vanished like a fast-moving dust

storm in this blustery high desert. Hard times have brought them to a

classroom in rural Kern County to learn a different trade. Tonight's

lesson: how to avoid death and dismemberment.This is Wind Technology Boot Camp at Cerro Coso Community College, where

eight weeks of study and $1,000 in tuition might lead to a job repairing

mammoth wind turbines like the ones sprouting up across this region.The work requires smarts and stamina. It is potentially dangerous.

Candidates need good knees, a cool head -- and a stomach for heights."I've seen guys just freeze halfway up the tower," said instructor Merritt

Mays, a baby-faced former Marine, who at 29 is already a grizzled veteran

in this young industry.For those who can hack it, starting pay ranges from $15 to $20 an hour.

Crack technicians can make six figures a year. Wind farms are hiring and

probably will be for years to come. That's luring hard hats like

49-year-old Chuck Patterson back to school, despite the inherent risks of

working 300 feet in the air."This is where the money's going to be," said the Ridgecrest, Calif.,

contractor, who likes the idea of a steady paycheck after years of

construction boom and bust.As in previous recessions, this economic downturn is boosting enrollment at

community colleges and vocational schools. Classrooms are swelling with

workers from hard-hit industries who are looking to change careers.Educators say the difference this time is the surging interest in so-called

green-collar jobs. President Obama wants to create 5 million of them over

the next decade. What isn't clear is how the U.S. is going to prepare this

workforce.Technical education for renewable-energy workers is scarce, particularly

for the fast-growing wind industry. Only a handful of wind programs operate

in community colleges. Cerro Coso filled the 15 slots in its boot camp

within hours. The next course is already full.The U.S. last year surpassed Germany as the world's No. 1 wind-powered

nation, with more than 25,000 megawatts in place. Wind could supply 20% of

America's electricity needs by 2030, up from less than 1% now, according to

a recent Energy Department report.California is the No. 3 wind state, behind Texas and Iowa. A slew of

developments are in the pipeline, including in Kern County, where hundreds

of turbines already dot the wind-swept ridges of the Tehachapi mountain

range."This is going to be ground zero for alternative energy" in California,

said Jim Fay, vice president of academic affairs at Cerro Coso Community

College, which has five campuses in Kern County. "We have to prepare our

students."The economic crisis has dampened growth in the renewable sector. But the

U.S. wind industry is clamoring for skilled technicians to maintain the

30,000 wind turbines already in the ground. The best workers combine the

knowledge of a top-flight mechanic with the endurance of an alpine

mountaineer."It's like [working on] a school bus on top of a really long pole," said

Bob Ward, a marketing manager for sensing and inspection technologies for

General Electric Co., one of the world's top turbine makers. "It's complex.

This isn't some Jiffy Lube job."A typical 1.5-megawatt GE unit costs $2.5 million installed. It sits about

30 stories above the ground at the hub, where its three 100-foot-long

blades connect to the tower.Just behind the hub is the housing for the gearbox, drive train and other

componen